Carlton Pearson
Live At Azusa III

Bishop Carlton Pearson resurfaces on the new Gospel division of Atlantic Records with Live at Azusa III. This project was delayed somewhat by last year’s unexpected shutdown of the Warner Gospel label, but no matter. This third helping of this series still comes piping hot and spiced with high prominence Gospel cameos from all over.

Not messing with the successful recipe which brought acclaim to the first two albums, Pearson once againLive At Azusa III CD serves up a fresh mix of old churchy favorites presented in new arrangements. The concert setting is before a ready congregation at Oral Roberts University, with an absolutely capable 350 voice choir backing things up.

Beverly Crawford sets the tone for the entire album with a couple of to-the-bone traditional uptempo cuts (“He Lives” and “Walk With Me”). As the album’s twelve cuts unfold, Pearson alternately sings and introduces the lead vocals of Bishop James Morton, Joshua Nelson and Mickey Mangun, with Nelson’s very Mahalia-esque version of “How I Got Over” causing ears to bend in incredulity.

Make a note of the interludes included within the mix of songs. While there are no surprises with the spoken word segments of Pearson recalling some of Rev. Carlton Pearsonthe saints he grew up with, the first track on the album is an interlude of a different sort, and is perhaps the first dramatic skit to appear on a traditional album. Check it out.

Also notable is the appearance of Marvin Winans on “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”, who joins with Pearson in duet on this universally known hymn. It’s nothing short of a Gospel travesty that this gem of a combo lasts only a little over two minutes. If there was ever a song worthy of a 9-minute marathon, then surely this would be it. Write a letter to your congressman.

To finish the work, Fred Hammond steps in. With an appropriately gritty voice for a traditional album, and with Radical for Christ in tow, he melds his inimitable style to “Jesus Be A Fence”. He does honor to the old song, and it works.

Remember, if you’re planning to help yourself to this one, don’t forget to buy an extra tambourine. Because a couple spins of this album will quickly wear out the one you have now.

Producer: Dan Cleary
album release date: September 21, 1999
Atlantic Records

— reviewed by Stan North

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