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Soul Great Jerry Lawson

Soul Great Jerry Lawson - What if American Idol had been around in the 1950s and Elvis Presley entered the competition? Would the judges have simply crowned him the winner after one episode? The new season of The Sing-Off (Monday, 7 p.m., NBC) faces a similar situation.

The a cappella competition features more of the usual flavorless ensembles, harmonizing with intense but pointless energy. Then comes Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town. As the former lead singer, arranger and resident genius of the Persuasions, Lawson is to a cappella music what Elvis was to rock 'n' roll: the king, with the power to break or lift your heart at will. It's a talent he shares with Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and other soul greats, though he's not as famous as they are.

You'd think that would make The Sing-Off an unfair fight, but 66-year-old Lawson is not the singer he used to be. As he admits in his intro segment, he fell on hard times and left the Persuasions. Indeed, the last time I heard him live his voice was tattered and his stage presence shaky. I worried he'd make a fool of himself in this comeback attempt and face censure from a panel of pop-star judges who aren't fit to tie his shoes.

I won't tell you how Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town fare in their debut performance. I'll only say that it took three hits of smelling salts to revive me.

Soul Great Jerry Lawson

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