PJ Morton is a preacher’s kid, and like many sons and daughters of pastors, Morton had a complex relationship with the church. The fact that Morton, like his equally famous father, Bishop Paul Morton, Sr., is a musician, only added complexity to the relationship. Music, after all, is a ministry within the church, and musicians, singers and songwriters are expected to use their gifts to glorify God rather than take it to the devil’s territory by playing secular music.
The pressure to play gospel music never came from Morton’s parents, but that didn’t mean the pressure from the well-meaning saints wasn’t intense. Pressure, the saying goes, breaks pipes. But it also makes diamonds, and Morton has created gems during his career as a solo artist, as well as a songwriter for secular and gospel artists. However, Morton left no doubts of where he stood as a performer. He made secular music, although his gospel influences and roots coursed through his songs. Just check out “Good Days, Bad Days,” both the studio version that appeared on Emotions and on 2015’s The Live Show Killer.
Morton sang about that pressure to confirm to the church world’s view of what a devout musician should be on his song “Son of a Preacher Man” from his 2010 album Walk Alone.
Morton has also faced commercial pressure to change his sound and his persona from the secular world and he sang about that on “Claustrophobic,” his song from the Grammy winning album Gumbo.
Morton is an artist with a strong and independent view of his personal faith and his artistic integrity who does things his way. Doing things his way has earned him awards, respect and the artistic autonomy to do things like play keyboard for Maroon 5 or return to his gospel roots with his latest album, the very good Gospel According to PJ. That’s an appropriate title because Morton wrote all 10 songs on this album for a who’s who of gospel luminaries over the years and because he reimagined and rearranged them to fit the vocalists performing them on Gospel According to PJ.
Song, arrangement and vocals connect throughout the album. “Gotta Have You,” a song Morton wrote for Jonathan McReynolds, sports a G-funk arrangement that fits the spoken word and call and response between vocalist and choir that is Kirk Franklin’s specialty. Morton tapped Commissioned and The Clark Sisters to reprise “Over and Over” and “Here He Comes Again,” and the versions of these songs showcase what made both Detroit groups chart topping gospel acts that had significant crossover appeal, mainly the strong lead vocals of Fred Hammond and Dorinda Clark-Cole and the tight harmonies that bring back memories of Motown.
The music of Leandria Johnson and Mary & Mary has a deeply soulful feel and these three singers have chops to truly belt, so turning them loose on a good old-fashioned church tune like “All in His Plan” just worked.
Morton’s father also appeared on Gospel According to PJ in three short conversations between father and son. The elder Morton is clearly happy that his son has penned a gospel album under his name, even though PJ mostly turned the vocals over to his gifted collaborators. Bishop Morton has reason to be proud. Gospel According to PJ reminds church folks and secular music fans that Bishop Morton’s son is one of the best songwriters working today. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes