andrae live cdThe best of Andrae Crouch, live – with one of the most powerful big gospel bands you'll hear anywhere!

Live In Los Angeles
Andrae Crouch
Riverphlo productions
15 tracks 75 minutes

It would be fair to say that Andrae Crouch has done more to bridge the gap between 'black' and 'white' gospel music that any other artist in history. It was Andrae Crouch and The Disciples that appeared in 1972 on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and got a standing ovation from Carson's house band. Andrae's early recordings on the Word label were a musical half-way house where suburban Christians (whose closest exposure to 'gospel' music was George Beverley Shea singing "I'd Rather Have Jesus" at a Billy Graham crusade) got their first exposure to the African American gospel sound. Today Crouch's songs can be found in hymnals in most evangelical churches. All this to say that we have a legend here, and it's good – real good – to hear the great man doing it again, live and fronting the hottest band that's ever played his music.

Andrae's last major live album was the iconic double LP, Live in London, a massive gospel celebration showing strong signs of disco's influence on the opening track, "Perfect Peace." Live in Los Angeles is thankfully free of any trace of disco, opting instead for a dynamic gospel/funk/fusion approach spearheaded by musical director, Luther 'Mano' Haynes (also the producer). A crisp horn section, lean, expressive bass, stinging dual guitars, appropriately funky keys and blistering drum licks bring the best out of Crouch's best songs, under the direction of Hanes.

The album explodes to life with a powerful salvo of drums and an extended instrumental introduction to the upbeat "Right Now," followed by the easy-going "Livin' This Kind of Life," and the high energy gospel-funk of "I've Got the Best." As powerful and engaging as the opening trio of songs is, this rock and roller has to admit that the first of the iconic Andrae Crouch anthems, "We Are Not Ashamed," got to me with an emotional kick that I wasn't prepared for. In medley form, this was followed by a series of classic songs guaranteed to conjure up not just nostalgic feelings, but a genuine stirring of the spirit. And thanks to musical director Hanes, the songs have never sounded better.

Speaking of never sounding better, Crouch stalwarts Linda McCrary and the amazing force of nature known as Tata Vega are also on hand to contribute memorable vocals. Never a strong vocalist himself, Crouch has always been generous to his singers, handing the spotlight over and preferring instead to sing short phrases and snatches of melody. Although his speaking voice shows signs of wear, the septuagenarian always-modest vocal abilities sound as good as ever here and are a pleasant surprise.

It's safe to say that Andrae Crouch Live in Los Angeles shows the artist in a more powerful musical setting than ever before, sounding funkier, more soulful and earthier than ever before – as if, now that he's accomplished his mission of making urban gospel music more palatable to a wider audience he's better able to get his 'church' on. This he does with the help of a stunning group of musicians, able to bring a big-band fusion sound, a little salsa, and even a more traditional church gospel sound on "Oh It Is Jesus," a vocal showcase for Tata Vega.

The album ends with the powerful band creating an instrumental coda to "Give It All Back To Me" that will have your head spinning. I think we need an album by Hanes and his band. I know I do. Meanwhile, we get all of that and Andrae Crouch, too – a true icon of Gospel music in fine form.

-Bert Saraco

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