PJ Morton: Walk Alone

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Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

R&B’s ‘Fly-Nerd’ tells a few interesting tales of love, faith and even lonlieness on breathtaking new record

If you’ve never heard of PJ Morton, now knowing soul revivalists like Sade and Maxwell are kicking up the fires of tried-and-true R&B, best learn up on him now. He is a preacher’s kid, the son of esteemed preacher and part-time gospel artist Paul S. Morton. Morton, like most PK’s, struggled to find his own voice while fighting against the pressures and expectations to live in his parents’ shadows. Morton, now old and wise enough to speak on his own, delivers a message to his faith-based community on “Son of a Preacherman” – one of the songs featured on his latest indie project Walk Alone. He asserts: “Gospel music? Yet another boundary/Just another way to put your chains on me/Tryin’ to make me what you want me to be/But I broke those chains a long time ago so I’m free.” Those words speak of a kind of liberation; something you don’t hear everyday in mainstream music or from the pews of most highly-protected religious institutions. Morton goes on to talk about his freedom to “talk about what I’m feelin’…to talk about relationships” and his passion for music. His freedom, best documented on the open-letter track, hints at just some of the consequences one faces when traveling down a road that isn’t so “in-the-middle-of-the-road.” Ironically like most full-time preachers who know a little something about pain and suffering, PJ sounds better and alive after being tested.

While he faces the war against traditional, stuck-in-the’50s ideologies off and on the record, he seems relieved and liberated on Walk Alone. Add in the fine quality of the supporting live band, the occasional string enhancements onto a mature, experimental template chronicling Stevie Wonder and Musiq Soulchild. To sum up his presentation, he’s a young gent with an ear for slick youthfulness and a profound knowledge of seasoned vinyl. The title cut walks through the lonely corridors of Donny Hathaway’s painstaking bluesy ballads like “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” or “Giving Up.” With it being the album opener and the earliest of his musical PSA’s, it reveals he has a well-trained ear for what historically works for great soul music. Even with his nerdy-like presence, usually wearing vintage black-rimmed glasses, he distills any doubt that he lacks the sex appeal to carry a R&B ballad. He teams up with former Missy Elliot mentee Tweet on the infectious soul-reggae tune “Love You More.” The song, along with other album highlights like the pop radio-seasoned “Forever” and “Girlfriend” (exposing the truth about involved gents becoming prey to singles), gives Morton the needed certification to soar well beyond his indie environment.

He isn’t ashamed of his upbringing and his faith, at all. On “Mountains and Molehills,” he delivers a traditional gospel lullaby, decorated with quartet harmonics, Bacharach/David strings and nostalgic vinyl crackles, that breaks out the bucket of inspiration. He also reprises his 2008 Song of the Year hit, recorded by gospel singer DeWayne Woods, on “Let Go.” His father joins in on the song, creating a soul-stirring father-and-son duet (think Gerald and Eddie LeVert) that inserts even more heat into the fire.

While he offers up nice, comfortable and even jazzed-up melodies, so reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, he falls a bit short from developing interesting choruses. Most of the uptempo songs like “She’s Gone,” “Don’t Ever Leave,” the Kem-ish “I Need Your Love” and even “Love You More” possess overly simplified choruses that drain some of the juices out of the colorful hooks.

It’s not sure if PJ Morton has any inner ambitions to assail beyond his underground, Fly-Nerd adaptations. But he may need to start preparing for that day. Walk Alone is a major improvement from his other releases (Emotions, Perfect Song) since it encompasses everything he’s learned over the years and wondrously brings it altogether using the kind of fluidity that creates great easy-listening albums. He’s still an acoustic guy when he can be and he knows how to find a good pop melody and work it ‘til the red meat shows. With a magical band and with the use of more musical tricks, Walk Alone doesn’t feel so lonely after all.

J MATTHEW COBB

HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 06 Apr 2010
  • Label: Indieblue
  • Producers: PJ Morton
  • Track Favs: Girlfriend, Love You More, Forever, She’s Gone

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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