Saturday, December 5, 2015

Keep On Singin' - Andraé Crouch and the Disciples

Keep On Singin'
Andraé Crouch and the Disciples
Light Records LS-5546-LP 

I picked this up in a thrift store in Williams, Arizona awhile back.  I had no idea who Andraé Crouch was at the time.  I'm not a big fan of religious music, but I dug the cover and hoped that the music was funky or soulful.  When I got home I gave it a spin and was dismayed to hear that much of it sounded like smooth sunshine pop.  It was so not what I was expecting that I stuck it on my purgatory shelf planning to discard it.  Then last January Crouch died and I came across several lengthy obituaries of him that praised his work and its significance in the history of gospel music.  I remembered that I had one of his records and pulled it out to listen to it again.  It was pretty much as I remembered but this time it didn't bother me.  Without my false expectations to prejudice me, I heard the music differently.  I appreciated its eclecticism and its pop appeal.  You might think I was just swayed by the critical praise of Crouch's work, but I think it is more of a case of me being motivated to listen to it more attentively.  The record opens with "I Don't Know Why Jesus Loved Me" which like all the songs on the record was written by Crouch.  It is sung by one of the Disciples, Perry Morgan.  This song has more of a traditional gospel sound with a prominent organ line and soulful ensemble vocals.  This is my favorite track on the record.  Crouch sings lead on "I'm Gonna Keep On Singin.'"  This is a more upbeat track bolstered by brass and winds and very poppy harmony vocals led by Crouch's twin sister Sandra who was also a member of the Disciples.  It is a slick and accessible production that shows off Crouch's pop smarts.  If it wasn't so religious I could imagine it as a top 40 single.  Disciple Billy Thedford and guest singer Tremaine Davis sing "I'm Coming Home, Dear Lord" with a lot of feeling.  The song is less dynamic than the previous track but shares the same elaborate pop style arrangement.  Crouch takes the mike again for "Along Came Jesus" which is a jumping number with a catchy melody and energetic vocals.  The record slows down for "Jesus (Every Hour He'll Give You Power)" which boasts a stirring vocal from Crouch.  Side two begins with Crouch singing "Take a Little Time" which is another soulful performance with an elaborate pop arrangement.  "What Ya Gonna Do?" is a jaunty number that almost sounds like a show tune.  It is mostly sung as an ensemble with a solo passage sung by Crouch.  It concludes with an odd bit of musical cacophony that sounds almost psychedelic.  "I've Got Confidence" is a rocker that is driven by a stinging guitar line.  It features a dynamic lead vocal from Crouch and it is one of my favorite cuts on the album.  Thedford is the soloist for "My Tribute (To God Be The Glory)" which is a dramatic ballad.  I find it sappy and overblown.  For some reason fake applause is dubbed in at the end of the song.  The album concludes with Crouch singing "I Must Go Away" which is country-flavored.  I find the song appealing, particularly the harmonica work and tasteful piano lines.  I'm not a Christian but I admire Crouch's expression of his spirituality.  He's not preachy or self-righteous and his lyrics have some memorable images and language.  Mostly though it is the music that gets to me.  Crouch and the Disciples were all terrific singers and their vocal interplay is consistently engaging.  Crouch was also a skilled arranger and I appreciate the variety of instruments and styles he employs throughout the record.  Although I was initially turned off by the poppiness of the record, I'm hardly the sort of person who does not like a big juicy hook and Crouch sprinkles them liberally throughout the record.  Crouch wanted to make religious music that would appeal to a broad audience and on this record he succeeded.  Anyone who is a fan of sophisticated 1970s pop-soul or sunshine pop ought to find stuff to like on the album.  Recommended to religious fans of the Fifth Dimension and Gladys Knight and the Pips.

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