Ladies and Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies and The Persuasions

Barenaked Ladies and The Persuasions

Vanguard, 2017

http://www.barenakedladies.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/06/2017

I’ll readily admit that I had really low expectations going into this record. All the signs were there pointing towards this being a washed-up cash-grab novelty. We’ve got two completely different musical acts that on paper shouldn’t mesh well at all. The Barenaked Ladies is a group of dorky middle-aged Canadian guys who play just about the whitest music possible, and the Persuasions is old black dudes who sing a cappella soul music. How could these two flavors possibly mix? Surprisingly well, actually. The band does a fantastic job with song selection, picking tracks that would suit this multi-vocalist approach and usually avoiding the obvious hits. They've also reconfigured most of the arrangements to fit with their live-in-the-studio approach. BNL can be a great rock band when they want to, but they've always been exceptionally well-suited to playing acoustic instruments; this album shows off that side of the band wonderfully.

The best moments on the album are actually the band’s newer songs. It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of the overly slick production on the band’s Silverball and Grinning Streak albums, but in this much looser environment, these songs actually shine quite brightly. “Narrow Streets” just felt like a token Jim Creeggan song when it popped up in the middle of Silverball, but positioned as the album opener and given an acoustic folky overhaul here, it suddenly becomes one of the band’s most delightful songs. I almost couldn’t believe that this wasn’t a brand-new track when I first put this disc on. “Odds Are,” “Gonna Walk,” and “Keepin’ It Real” also get improved in similar ways. The environment really brings out the best in this material.nbtc__dv_250

The frequent lead vocals and interjections by The Persuasions members were something I wasn’t sure if I could get on board with at first. They're all excellent singers, but I was skeptical of how well their vocals would mesh with those of the The Barenaked Ladies. But this particular vocal blend isn’t something I’ve ever heard anywhere else, so I’ve grown kind of fond of it. The occasional studio chatter and silly comments, plus the slight messiness of it all due to the album’s quick turn-around time (they recorded it in just two days), gives it a great off-the-cuff feel that’s almost never been captured on the band’s studio albums. It feels like you showed up to a party and BNL and The Persuasions were there and they just picked up whatever instruments were around and started playing and having fun. It’s the same sort of atmosphere that the Beach Boys tried to pull off with their Party album way back in the ‘60s, and BNL nails that vibe as well as they possibly could have.

There are two tracks on here that most BNL fans won't have heard before. “Don't Shuffle Me Back” originates from one of Kevin Hearn’s solo albums and instantly secures its place as a BNL highlight. They also play one song originally by The Persuasions called “Good Times,” and it’s just alright. Ed Robertson’s ad-libbed rap verse certainly isn’t going to gain him any street cred. But that’s typical for BNL, so I don’t mind.

There are a few picks I'm less enthused about here. Yes, of course “One Week” is featured, and while I could have done without it, the band’s dedication to revamping their songs still applies so it doesn’t feel like the rote run-through that it could have easily been. “I Can Sing” is a song that I like a fair amount, but it seems a bit of an odd choice to conclude the album on. “The Old Apartment” is a fan favorite, but it's never been a personal highlight of mine, though handing the lead vocals entirely to the Persuasions was an interesting choice. Also, I've never really been into “When I Fall” all that much. But it's still as well performed as I could ask for.

“Some Fantastic” was an inspired song selection. It was a duet to begin with, so it translates really well to this environment with the different members trading off verses. “For You,” “Sound Of Your Voice,” and “Maybe Katie” are always highlights no matter the context, and the versions we get here maintain those song's great qualities.

On the surface, this album seems like it might be a pointless gimmick, but it actually might be the band's best project this decade. If you're a fan, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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