This is the first solo album from the lead singer of acappella soul group The Persuasions. A band he fronted and arranged their material for some forty years. The album came about following a meeting between producer Eric Brace and Lawson - who also co-produced the album with Brace - when the latter had joined Brace’s band Last Train Home at a gig they were playing in his home town of Phoenix. Lawson was there because he’d read a piece written by Brace in the Washington Post that declared Lawson the best soul singer since Sam Cooke.
That may go some way to show the genesis of this thoughtful marriage of soul and Americana. Not something that hasn’t been done before but when done well is always a welcome addition to this particular sub-genre. The two, as producers, have chosen a selection of songs that work so well in this context. I’m Just A Mortal Man the title song that reveals human aspirations and failings. The opening song is Paul Simon’s Peace Like A River. - a flowing river of soul. Another interesting choice is Phil Lee and John Sieger’s I Hope That Love Always Knows Your Name. Brace contributes In The Dark and three other songs, while his Red Beet cohort Peter Cooper wrote the song Wine. The songs here largely look for the positive in the human condition and its need and search for salvation in its many forms.
In the studio in Nashville the gathered together a crew that could do these songs justice and being recorded in music city the emphasis falls more on the Americana side but never looses it sight of the soul roots its singer springs from. With a sublime voice like Lawson’s it couldn’t. The main players who include Brace, Joe Pisapia, Jen Gunerman and Duane Blevins all serve the songs well. There are a whole additional set of guest players who add brass and strings to the songs as required. Some additional vocal accompaniment comes from the McCrary Sisters and for two tracks by everyone’s favourite harmony singer Jim Lauderdale.
Of special mention is the heartfelt pleading for love and not to leave in Down On My Knees. Its subtle vocal harmonies, brass and guitar lines adding much atmosphere of a song that could be a plea to a partner or to a higher power. It is an outstanding combination of music and voice. As indeed is the album overall. The feeling of grace and inspired interaction makes this a special album that should deservedly appeal across the board. But as with the last live track I’ll Come Running Back To You which is just vocals and acoustic guitar the power and soulfullness is equally evident in a more simple setting as befits the renowned acappella singer.
A word too for Red Beet Records who always give the packaging care and thought and the accompanying press notes and physical CD leave most major labels and some indies to shame. These are people who care about all aspects of what the release.