andrae journey_90The Journey is, simply put, one of Andrae Crouch's best albums – a mature work full of funk, style and spiritually potent lyrics.

The Journey

Andrae Crouch

Riverphlo Records

15 tracks / 77:10

In the late sixties, when 'Black' Gospel Music was more-or-less a foreign language to vast numbers of Americans, a young man named Andrae Crouch burst onto the scene and eventually ended up on the American institution known as The Tonight Show, where their performance elicited a standing ovation from the hard-to-impress Tonight Show Band. This was just the beginning of a series of milestones for the unassuming songwriter/performer – Crouch's smooth sense of soul, non-threatening, jazz-cooled funk, and positive message made Andrae Crouch and the Disciples an inviting cultural half-way house for the masses who, apparently, were ready to get their feet wet....

Straddling a musical fence somewhere between Edwin Hawkins ( the jazz-oriented Black Gospel artist that spawned the crossover hit, "Oh Happy Day") and Ralph Carmichael (the very corporate, white producer/arranger/songwriter trying to convince church teens that his Up With People musical schtick was rock and roll), Andrae Crouch slowly but surely began carving his own special niche in the history of Christian Music that would not only gain his songs a place in hymnals across the country, but would earn the respect of a multitude of more 'secular' stars, including one that became known as the King of Pop.

Today, more than 40 years later, Andrae Crouch releases The Journey – not (as the title might imply) a project looking back at what brought him to where he is today, but simply a collection of songs with the indelible Andrae Crouch stamp on them – nothing overtly autobiographical except for the overriding sense that God has touched the man's life, and that never gets old. If you ever loved Andrae's music, have no fear – The Journey is pure Andrae Crouch.

The opening track explodes through your speakers with about as exciting a salvo of sound as I've heard on any gospel album. "Somebody Told Me About Jesus" features powerful, funky horn and bass runs and a typically fiery vocal by Crouch regular, TaTa Vega. The song has an incredibly solid bottom end (provided by bassist Maurice Fitzgerald) and gets into some cool jazz fusion-like moments in the tag-ending.

Only Andrae could get away with the funky carnival-like riff and building counter melodies he built into "Good Times," which continues the high energy. Things get a little more conventional with "Where Jesus Is," which features Linda McCrary (now McCrary-Fisher) on lead vocals and Rick Watford on a concise but tasty guitar solo.

It's New Orleans meets Ragtime meets Music Hall in the album's 'novelty' track, "He Has a Plan For Me," a song that will either annoy or amuse. To these ears, it's the only misstep on the project and a waste of the incredible vocal talents of Tata Vega. Still, it might just be a bit of comic relief to prepare the listener for what comes next, which might be the dramatic focal point of The Journey...

"Faith" is a bluesy, lushly orchestrated minor-key piece that clocks in at over seven minutes and features the extraordinary vocal skills of not only Kim Burrell (who starts off in an amazingly low register and finishes by soaring to vocal heights) but the legendary Take 6! The vocal talents on this lyrically straight forward track combined with the big, warm production of Luther 'Mano' Hanes make "Faith" a showpiece of this project.

The bouncy pop-rock setting of "When I Think About You" lightens up the mood with a hooky refrain and Errol Conney's excellent guitar riffing. The Steely Dan influenced "Jesus Came Into My Life" is cool and breezy, with a leisurely pace and a spoken 'invitation' by Pastor Crouch over the ending vamp.

Another high-point follows, as no less than Chaka Khan and Sheila E. fire up over seven minutes of "All Around the World," a funky, horn-laden track reminiscent of Seawind ot Tower of Power with an added touch of Latin percussion and soul. Once again, Cooney cooks on guitar.

The ballad, "I Can," features Andrae calming things down a bit at the piano with a string accompaniment to his vocal. Things get decidedly Old School next as the irrepressible Rance Allen takes center stage on "Heaven Bound," a rousing gospel number that puts you right in the front pew ready to have some church!

Marvin Winans shows up two tracks later to bring a slightly early benediction on "Let the Church Say Amen," (which bears some musical resemblance to "Bless His Holy Name") but not before a short rendition of an intimate, jazz-club style "There's Nobody Like Jesus," recorded live.

The hymn-like "God is on Our Side" is the official penultimate track, short and elegant, performed on piano and organ accompanying the tasteful choral arrangement. This leads to "The Promise," a jazzy ballad sung by Andrae – the official last track of the album. For those who wisely allow the disc to play through the next five empty tracks, the bonus track (track 20) is another highlight of The Journey – a treat not to be missed: Marvin Winans does his own vocal take on the same song that Andrae just 'ended' the project with. Winans proves on this song that he's a master of phrasing and is perhaps one of the best male vocalists around today. We certainly need to hear more solo work from this amazing song interpreter.

The Journey is, simply put, one of Andrae Crouch's best albums – a mature work, full of style and spiritually potent lyrics. Not the strongest singer himself, Andrae wisely (and unselfishly) allows others to carry most of the vocal load. The sound of this album is rich and textured, thanks to producer and frequent co-writer, Luther 'Mano' Hanes, who allows Crouch's personality to shine through the songs. The balance of fun, funk, and spirituality works perfectly on this album of music by a legendary artist working in jazz and gospel and whose heart can be easily found in the mix.

-Bert Saraco