Photo: Patrick Melon
It just doesn’t happen often enough anymore. In fact, the whole ordeal sounds like something that Motown might’ve organized back in ‘72.
However, the year was 2018, and we can thank Morton Records for the evening…
In late January, GRAMMY® Award- and Dove® Award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, Morton Records founder, and Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton called his live band, The Matt Jones Orchestra, and a bevy of high-profile special guests to Power Station Studios at Berklee NYC. The next day, his critically acclaimed 2017 opus, Gumbo [Morton Records], would compete in the categories of “Best R&B Album” and “Best R&B Song” for “First Began” at the GRAMMY® Awards—yet everybody focused on the magic of the moment at hand. In just one take over the course of forty minutes, these musicians performed the nine songs comprising Gumbo live. The result would be the artist’s 2018 offering, Gumbo Unplugged.
“What you hear on the album is what we did that night,” he beams. “That’s a very old school concept. We brought in the orchestra because the strings figured so prominently on the original. I wanted fans to see and hear how it’s really done in the studio though. On stage, it’s a different expression for me. There were so many special nights on the tour. I needed to capture that and give it to audiences. I’m really proud of what we did. This was all the real thing.”
On Gumbo, BJ The Chicago Kid & The HamilTones separately recorded their parts to “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” Meanwhile, Lecrae sent in his cameo for the “No Religion” remix. Gumbo Live saw them record in person with Morton and Co. for the very first time, marking a momentous occasion.
“Those guys are all pros,” he goes on. “It was a treat to finally get to jam these out in person.”
In less than a month, the recording of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” [feat. YEBBA] quickly generated over 432K Spotify streams and 406K YouTube/VEVO views. Sitting behind an acoustic piano backed by lush orchestration, his smooth and soulful delivery engages, entrances, and enchants as YEBBA belts out the harmony.
“That’s always been one of my favorite songs,” he goes on. “It’s an honor to reintroduce it to old fans and introduce it to young kids. YEBBA just killed it. ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ will forever be connected to me in a way now.”
Just like Gumbo is.
Upon release, the record crashed the Top 10 of the Billboard Heatseekers Albums Chart in addition to attracting acclaim from The Washington Post, The Advocate, and more. With Morton averaging over 553K monthly listeners on Spotify, “First Began” and “Go Thru Your Phone” both cracked the 2-million-mark as “Claustrophobic” [feat. Pell] broke 1 million and “How Deep Is Your Love” followed on its heels. It’s just the latest chapter in an unbelievable career though.
In addition to boasting collaborations with Adam Levine, Lil Wayne, and Busta Rhymes, his critically acclaimed 2013 offering, New Orleans, earned a 2014 GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best R&B Song” for “Only One” [feat. Stevie Wonder]. Pitchfork called it, “a smooth and soulful pop/R&B hybrid,” and the record dramatically expanded his influence. In addition to figuring prominently on Maroon 5’s multiplatinum Overexposed and V, Morton has written and produced for everybody from BJ The Chicago Kid, Jermaine Dupri, and Jazmine Sullivan to Monica and India.Arie, winning a GRAMMY® for collaborating with the latter in 2008. His music has also popped up in films such as Couples Retreat and more.
Among many other accolades, he has received Dove® and Stellar® Awards, published his literary debut Why Can’t I Sing About Love? in 2009, and become music director for Solange following the release of her critically acclaimed opus A Seat At The Table.
Relocating from Los Angeles back to New Orleans, he returned with a pronounced fire and hunger and cooked up Gumbo before topping the charts again with Maroon 5’s Red Pill Blues. With the More Gumbo Tour and more signings and surprises planned for Morton Records, he’s only just begun to reinvigorate soul from the place he calls home.
“When people listen to me, I hope it inspires them to be themselves, be proud of who they are, and be confident in their creativity,” he leaves off. “I want to showcase real musicians in this way again. I’m also proud we made this record in New Orleans. I’d love to encourage my city. It’s possible to get far in the music business by doing it right here. You don’t have to leave. I actually came back to get here,” he smiles.