Melodies to Heaven
by Robert Liparulo
When gospel legend Andra  Crouch praises Christ, he intends to make musical history. Millions of albums sold, six Grammy awards, innumerable Dove awards. Crouch is widely regarded as one of our most gifted and influential Christian artists today (a fact driven home by the release of last year's Grammy-winning Tribute: The Songs of Andra Crouch).So when it looked like God was calling Crouch away from music, it came as quite a shock. On the heels of the deaths of his mother, father and brother-all within two years-Crouch was faced with the most difficult decision of his career: should he step in to save the church his father had  pastored for more than 40 years? "I thought that if I took up the mantle of pastor, I wouldn't be able to make music my first priority, " he says. "I was filled with doubt about making such a choice."  Then he realized that God was adding a wonderful ministry to his life, not taking something away. He donned the role of preacher, counselor, community liaison-and found himself inspired to make music for and about the lives he encountered. 
"I began rising at dawn to Pray for the day,"  Crouch says, " and more often than not, a song would come to me in those early hours. A lot of the material on this album was written that way."Hence the title. And any question whether full-time pastoring 
would temper Crouch's creativity shatters about halfway through the first track, "Lord I Thank You." 
It comes bouncing through the speakers with aplomb, utterly hip and catchy. The soulful harmony of the female choir comes through right off the bat, and 
doesn't end until the track's last sounds.The musical 'grunt' that opens 'Distraction' is indicative of Crouch's approach; its rhythmic pulse is pure praise that both young and old will appreciate.At the core of Pray, is a message of hope. "I wanted this album to be a heartfelt message of affirmation to people who are going though tough situations,"Crouch explains. "I want to let them know that there is help in times of trouble. I've been in those dark times, and have seen how much good can come out of sorrow and hardship."  The CD's closer, "Until Jesus Comes," is a rich and slow ballad that speaks of carrying on, without getting discouraged, until Christ's return: Eyes have not seen/Ears have not heard/All the good things my God has in store.Although Pray lacks some of the depth and innovative spirit of earlier Andra Crouch records, listeners will still enjoy this pastor/artist's distinctive blend of pop, R&B and gospel sounds."Being a pastor is no easy job," Crouch admits, "  and neither is being in the musical spotlight. But God has given me the strength and inspiration to do it."