What is immediately striking about Walk Alone is the weight and body of its kaleidoscopic productions. Strong narratives derive from the multi-layered rhythms, colorful horn flourishes and nimble keywork that pull from early Rufus and the Stevie Wonder of the Higher Ground years. Gone is Morton's trademark minimalism from Emotions and the AM soft rock of Perfect Song, spare productions that bravely believed in its melodic conceits well enough to trust the song to seduce you. This departure is not an abandonment of his trademark sound; the changes feel like a natural, organic evolution. Morton's infectiousness is unceasing on the penetrating refrain for "Don't Ever Leave" or the forceful declaration of aloneness on the rocked out "She's Gone," a song that needs an exclamation point on its end. The ease and accessibility that stamp every Morton cut is still here, if more fully complemented.
The band, in this instance, deserves much praise for realizing the bridge between PJ's first two projects and refreshing Morton's sound. Morton's stellar support system seems to be able to execute any palette for the prodigal PJ to play on, from classical ("Mountains and Molehills") to light rock ("Forever"), even reggae ("Love You More" feat. Tweet). Bassist Calvin Parmer and guitarist Jesse Bond and Erick Walls, with a seriously stirred up band, electrically bring "She's Gone" to life. Even Morton's darker side, previously only hinted at on previous releases, is given ample expression on the title track partially thanks to notable work by percussionist Charles Chaffer and Morton's dramatic keys and strings. James King's trumpet and Dwayne Dugger's saxophone thoroughly modernize the New Orleans ragtime of "Girlfriend" and sophisticate the patty cake fun of "I Need Your Love." The jazzy hip hop approach of the band's intelligent, but restrained support keeps the rapped testimonial "Son of A Preacher Man" from teetering toward a prolonged interlude of self-indulgence, however heartfelt.
Speaking of which, the much besieged son of a preacher man has recently made much about his decidedly different walk from his father, famous preacher/musician Paul S. Morton Sr., defending his secular musical approach against a "church folks" backlash. Yet, the junior's work on Walk Alone proves every bit as inspirational and motivational as his senior's. Though there is a distinctive awkwardness to the forced hook on "Mountains and Molehills," the message is unambiguously a ministry of hope. Indeed, there is consistently something pervasively hopeful in PJ Morton's voice and material that is clean; a soothing, smiling and sometimes even healing element to his work.
His father seems to understand this, quietly punctuating support for his son on the most touching song on Walk Alone, the unabashedly gospel "Let Go." The awesomely powerful father and son duet preaches surrender to faith and God for peace and purpose, then compositionally demonstrates that yielding and surrender through the Mortons' alternating musical roles in melody and harmony, to create a song of beauty, cohesion, and balance. "Let Go" literally teaches and metaphorically models what both Mortons truly believe serenity requires. Both men with their very different voices reveal equal purity in tone and intention, though they've taken different paths to ultimately achieve the same spiritual goals.
While Emotions remains PJ Morton's high watermark, one he may strive to top for some time to come, Walk Alone is much like PJ, a different but credibly able heir to one trusted and beloved. Upon repeated listen, there is so much here that moves and sings within these deceptively simple songs, a single listen does them and Morton's unique genius a disservice. The unconventional, but artistically faithful Walk Alone is one of the best R&B releases that Urban AC will probably sleep on this year. Maybe the lovely radio-ready "Love You More" duet with the much adored, but rarely heard, Tweet is conservative enough to catch their attention. Even without radio support, Morton should never fear walking alone for creating good music that teaches, uplifts, and still entertains. Deservedly, there is a legion of grateful fans walking right alongside PJ Morton, cherishing his gifts of love. Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson