P J Morton - Emotions (2005)

P J Morton
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There's a line in the movie Jerry Maguire that goes "You had me from ‘hello'."  Well, PJ Morton had me from the first bar of "Jiberish," the album's second cut, and he kept me spellbound for the remainder of his impressive debut album, Emotions.

In some ways, the formula behind an album like Emotions sounds deceptively simple.  Bring together a crop of melodic, soulful cuts, keep relatively restrained arrangements with a guitar and piano/organ foundation, and focus on a quality lead singer with strong phrasing.  But try to find a male soul singer in the past year who has done it as well as P.J. Morton does on Emotions.   In fact, only Gordon Chambers' great debut album has come close. 

There's a line in the movie Jerry Maguire that goes "You had me from ‘hello'."  Well, PJ Morton had me from the first bar of "Jiberish," the album's second cut, and he kept me spellbound for the remainder of his impressive debut album, Emotions.

In some ways, the formula behind an album like Emotions sounds deceptively simple.  Bring together a crop of melodic, soulful cuts, keep relatively restrained arrangements with a guitar and piano/organ foundation, and focus on a quality lead singer with strong phrasing.  But try to find a male soul singer in the past year who has done it as well as P.J. Morton does on Emotions.   In fact, only Gordon Chambers' great debut album has come close. 

Typically, an album reviewer focuses on a handful of both the strongest and weakest songs, particularly if they tell a bigger picture about the disc.  The fact is, Emotions is all highlights -- there simply isn't a bad moment on the disc.  Morton claims artists from Donny Hathaway to Al Green (whose voice Morton's resembles) to James Taylor as influences.  However, the biggest influence on Emotions is Stevie Wonder.  His echoes can be heard on such cuts as "I Need to Know," the ballad "Inside Your Heart" and "Fly Away," the latter being one of the best urban adult contemporary cuts you'll hear this year.  Which brings me back to "Jiborish." Along with "Today," it is the kind of memorable acoustic soul song that folks expected but rarely received from Babyface or Tony Rich.  The rest of the album covers a spectrum of sounds effectively, from the contemporary spiritual "Good Days Bad Days" to the power rock ballad "I Need You" to the Gospel cut "Heavenly Father," each compelling in its own way.

Impressively, Emotions bears none of the normal shortcomings of independent soul releases, which, for budgetary reasons, often rely on an overabundance of synthesizers to make up the lack of real instruments.  Instead, this disc uses simple but extremely effective arrangements behind its acoustic base, including well placed horns on "I Need to Know" and "No Ordinary Love," a soulful organ on "Heavenly Father" and "Good Days Bad Days" and strings on "Jiberish" and "Inside Your Heart."

To me, there is little that is more enjoyable than a great album coming out of left field, and we're lucky if we hear a handful in a given year.  Well, there is no bigger sleeper this year than Emotions.  It is a truly great disc and an unexpected introduction to a young singer/songwriter who appears to have the whole package.  And while an album like this would be welcomed by soul music fans anytime, during a time in popular music when it is more important to pimp and pose than make real music, it becomes that much more precious.  It will be tough to find a better adult soul album in 2005.  This is essential listening.

CR

 
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