Ignore the cheesy cover art. Though it resembles a no-budget local LP pressing from 1970, Talk of the Town is one humdinger of a vocal album. For 40 years you read right Jerry Lawson was a singer with the long-lived a cappella group the Persuasions (who can count Johnny Otis and the late Frank Zappa among their fans). After many years of critical acclaim and little tangible reward, Lawson relocated to the Phoenix area and got a day job. But fortunately for us, Lawson couldn't get singing out of his system, and he connected with San Francisco a cappella outfit Talk of the Town (plus a few guests) for this self-titled tour de force. With Lawson's sanctified lead vocals (think Sam Cooke as a baritone) and the velvety yet vigorous, gospel-based harmonies of TOTT (so opulent you won't miss any instruments), these fellows masterfully evoke pop and R&B vocal groups from the Dells to Boyz II Men and their gospel forebears, Blind Boys of Alabama and the Soul Stirrers. One reason this set works so well (aside from the sublime singing) is the variety of the material, from traditional gospel to the Bee Gees to Randy Newman to Dixie Chicks. Like all great vocal interpreters, Lawson and company make these disparate songs sound like they were written for them.