Review: Sarah Brown Sings Mahalia Jackson


“It’s been a long time coming”, as Sam Cooke sang, “but a change is gonna come.” The time has come for Sarah Brown. Long established as a backing vocalist for a number of world renowned musical artists including; Stevie Wonder, George Michael, Bryan Ferry and Duran Duran, Sarah is currently on tour with Simple Minds.

It is during her past 12 years with Simple Minds, led by bolstering confirmation, mentorship and camaraderie from Minds frontman, Jim Kerr, that Ms Brown has stepped out beyond the backing vocalist background. Afforded the freedom and confidence to take on more of a co-vocalist role within the Simple Minds touring set-up has given Sarah the added confidence she freely admits to have lacked in the past. 

This strength in confidence has led on to Sarah releasing her debut solo album, ‘Sarah Brown Sings Mahalia Jackson’. Jackson was the leading positive figurehead for the young Brown growing up in the quiet Buckinghamshire town of Aylesbury. 

The album is a joyous and empowering homage to a gospel great. 

Opener ‘Nobody Knows’ emulates musically Sarah’s whole journey to this point. Starting so quietly and solemnly until BAM – we get into the guts of it and here she comes, telling us in a not-to-be-reckoned-with style, “You think you’ve had troubles? You ain’t had NOTHING compared to ME, mister! But I didn’t let it get me down. No way, no how! Let’s kick this stuff into touch!”

Lead single from the album, ‘I’m On My Way’, emphasises that in some respects Sarah’s journey is only just beginning. It’s happening! She’s coming for us! Blessed be! 

The standout at this early point in the album not only is very obviously Sarah’s voice, but also the wonderful piano work from Colin Good. It’s an instrument made to accompany Sarah’s voice and Good is masterful in weaving that accompanying instrument around Sarah’s exquisite alto tone. 

‘Didn’t It Rain’ is soul and gospel richness. If I was Noah and Sarah came a-knocking there’d be NO WAY I’d not be letting her in, geez! I could play this track most days in this city I love (Glasgow) and it would be the best response to ward off any ‘blues’ from the endless rain this “Dear Green Place” seems to require to stay green. 

On Sarah’s interpretation of ‘Summertime’, the blend of bass, organ and piano are as heavenly as Sarah’s voice. Kudos to Luke Smith and Tom Wheatley for their musicianship on organ and bass, respectively. This version of ‘Summertime’ is a beautiful mellow, languid piece. An adult lullaby – if such a thing can exist? So soothing. Sublime. Really give it the attention it deserves. Make sure you have a quiet 35 minutes to really immerse yourself in the experience of listening to this album, especially when it comes to this track. 

And if you think I’ve forgotten to mention someone on the musician list? No, no, no…Jerome Brown’s time comes with the next song. I hope you didn’t get too comfortable listening to that wonderfully languid version of ‘Summertime’? Because you’re gonna be getting up out of your seat for ‘Walking Over Heaven’. The second single off the album, released just a few weeks before the album’s release is rally-calling uplifting dynamo of gospel soul bliss. Thumping, hollering glory! And those backing vocals – oh my word! And how great is it that Sarah is the lead having HER vocals being backed up?! About time!

A simple prayer. A simple wish. Expressed angelically. ‘Just a Closer Walk’ is that most splendid of blues gospel tunes, all in the subtlety of it is its power. One that slowly builds to a modest crescendo. It’s pretty close to perfection, this track. 

There’s a storm brewing. A dark timbre and metre. ‘Trouble of the World’ doesn’t lull you into any false sense of security. It’s straight down the line. These are dark times. What drama this song has! And what an ending! It’s a heavy piece and very dramatic, but again, exquisitely executed. 

‘Joshua’ is a fantastic blend of blues, gospel and jazz. An absolute foot-tapper. Short and to the point. Nothing is wasted here. 

If you aren’t brought to tears by Sarah’s version of ‘Amazing Grace’, you’re made of much tougher stuff than I am. In fact I’d be brutal enough to say that you might like to check if there is a heart inside that chest of yours. 

In all, Ms Brown’s debut solo album is an immaculate homage to an incredible, inspiring woman, who in turn has given us another incredible and inspiring woman in her wake. 

Us Simple Minds fans have been blessed to have experienced and enjoyed Sarah’s voice and spirit for a number of years now and we all feel so immensely proud that ‘Oor Sadie’ has found her wings and is soaring high. 

If you’re seeking music that uplifts and brings you joy and has elements of jazz, blues and gospel to it, I cannot recommend ‘Sarah Brown Sings Mahalia Jackson’ strongly enough.

Sarah’s done ‘Halie proud. She’s done all of us fans proud. Most importantly, she’s done herself proud. Hallelujah, Ms Brown. Hallelujah!

Sarah Brown Sings Mahalia Jackson is out now and available for purchase through Sarah’s website at: https://www.sarahbrownofficial.com/

A Friend Of Frank

What a difference a week can make, eh?

I tried to shield the blog from it as much as possible, although it didn’t escape unscathed as my mood last weekend was probably at the worst it had been all year – culminating in a complete anxiety attack and me considering chucking in the whole uni thing.

A combination of things, really. My appalling low self-opinion of myself, and my capabilities and the massive comedown from Paris… just all the things I do to myself combined with the PGD (Post Gig Depression). Just how ‘anti’ ME I am. If there happens to be any haters out there visiting this blog right now and are reading these words – TRUST ME – you could not hate me any more than I hate myself. Rest assured!

But this time I battled through it. Sunday and Monday were the worst days. Sunday I was feeling the worst anxiety I have had when approaching an assignment. I looked over the two options I felt I had for my assignment – The Blues or Writing Stories (ie: Creative Writing). I kept dismissing the writing stories topic because I am petrified of it. It was a hard week of study and only towards the end of it did I begin to enjoy it. I really enjoyed the blues week so it had always been the much stronger contender.

Anyway, I can’t go into too much more detail about it but suffice it to say that I was wracked with indecision and felt frozen with anxiety to even begin the assignment.

Things didn’t improve on Monday. I emailed my tutor in a cry for help. I explained all that was going on. A prompt reply with reassurance was the first step. A phone call followed the next day. That helped further.

I made a start on Tuesday. It all still felt so overwhelming but I was tackling it head on. Trying to look at it positively. Reassured by words from good friends. A good day of progress on Wednesday. A tutor session on Wednesday evening. More headway on Thursday. Inspiration from Graeme Thomson at the Mitchell Library on Thursday night. A lot more headway on Friday – all of this, slowly but surely lifted the weight and the clouds to now where I can clearly see and breathe, more relaxed yet still focused. Still apprehensive about the assignment – but at a point where if I really DO get a crap mark from it, it wasn’t through lack of trying!

ANYWAY! Short story is, as the week has progressed well and my mood has lifted day by day. We are halfway through the course, so I guess that was the time to have that massive ‘crisis of (no) confidence’ point nearly every student goes through.

I was smart enough to cry for help. To contact my tutor, instead of just trying to be this person who lets the blackness, anxiety and pressure overwhelm them.

Last night I had some fun. I won TWO Scrabble games – one pretty resoundingly – and just allowed myself to properly relax for the first time in … more than two weeks.

Frank’s hot pal.

Frank Gallagher posted this photo of Jim with the words “Sent ma pal some swag. He seems to be enjoying it.” It’s a nice pic. In an exercise in fun and frivolity and letting my hair down, I left a comment…

“Hey, your pal is hot – can I have his number?” with a couple of cheeky grinning winking emojis. Ah, why not? It’s not as if I am confessing anything new that NOBODY knows! Lol. I’m sure even that hermit guy they made that film about knows that I am a bit ‘gone’ on His Kerrness.

Frank is always up for a fun response anyway…and he didn’t disappoint… “Aye. How much you got $$$$”

Serious note…don’t I wish I could actually TALK to this man for longer than a constrained two minute window in the middle of a meet and greet? I guess I can just keep on wishing with that one…oh, well.

And…that smile! I wish that was for me too. I’ll pretend it is. “Good job on getting that assignment done, Larrrrrelllllle – you can do anything you put your mind to. Nae danger. Dinnae fash yersel!”

Fake it til you make it…

Release Day – Sarah Brown Sings Mahalia Jackson

This is a day I have been anticipating for quite some time. Right from the moment Sarah announced that she was recording her debut solo album to us Simple Minds fans, in fact.

That day has arrived. Sarah Brown Sings Mahalia Jackson is now available on the streaming/digital download service of your choice (link HERE). Also available in physical format on CD and LP (pre-order for September release) via Rough Trade (click the link added for details).

I am yet to listen to any of it, other than the singles that have been released from it so far. Goddamn being a uni student! I am working on an assignment and am just allowing myself the time to post this this morning.

My assignment is on the blues and I have to incorporate ‘close listening’ in working on my essay so I’m trying not to cloud my listening at the moment by hearing much of anything else. The assignment is due on Tuesday, so until then, it might be a bit tricky for me to do a review…but I hope to do so as soon as I can.

I’m also hoping that there might be other news to come regarding the release of Sarah’s album…but we’ll see. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime…Happy Release Day, Miss Sarah! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

Aye Write In The City

Inspiration – right here (see pic of book dedication below). I will think of this for the next few days as I complete my latest assignment for university.

It will remind me that I am at the place I have longed to be at right now.

“When the other side of midnight calls / remind me I’m glad to be here”.

Thank you, Graeme. Yourself and John provided an entertaining and insightful evening.

Aye Write The Night…

A quick reminder, esp. to those living locally…this will be taking place at the Mitchell Library tonight at 8pm. Looking forward to the talk and meeting up with Graeme in person and having my copy of the book signed. ❤️😊

Perhaps I’ll see you there? Tickets are still available as far as I know…(image is clickable – taking you to ticket info page)

Motivation?

Some new prints from Virginia arrived today (Middle and right – silver framed. There’s one other not pictured – it’s in landscape ratio and so in the frames on the other side of the room).

I’d be happy to gaze upon his beautiful smiling face for eternity. Past or present. Twenty-three or sixty-three.

That colour one of him looking to camera was one of the first photos I got from Virginia when I could only get a few tiny 6×4 inch photos. It was coming up to Glasgow with me with the rest of the small array of 6×4 photos I had. They were taken when the van was broken into on the move up here some two and a half years ago.

Replaced at last.

The one next to it (Arthur’s Seat/Edinburgh 1981) was another I had in 6×4 also, I think.

Anyway… on with study and trying to complete another assignment…

Temporary Hiatus – Minds Music Monday – Big Sleep

Not much will be happening here on the blog for the next week as I have to knuckle down for my next uni assignment. Demotivation is starting to rear its ugly head and I need to try and deal with that.

So here’s an apt Minds Music Monday choice. I chose this clip because Jim smiles a lot.

Ah, today’s post…seeing a lady share a photo of this beautiful smiling face she got from Jim. Jealous much? You bet I was! Nothing would make me happier than to see that smile and know that I had produced it…rather than…that look that says “Why are you still here? Please go home, go away. Tiresome woman.”

Wish I could put the ‘Big Sleep’ on my feelings…

When Words Feel Apt

Today’s study involved familiarising ourselves in using the OED as an online reference source (student access to it opens up more than you get by going to the site without student/teacher access).

We were asked to look up certain words that had been used in poems we’ve been studying this week. One of the poems was ‘The Captiv’d Bee: or, The Little Filcher’ by Robert Herrick. Herrick used several archaic and obsolete words, including the word ‘scrip’. His use of it was as its first definition (a small pouch or bag carried by a pilgrim) which he used in metaphor.

The word has/had other meanings, including this one (primarily a Scottish term, as you can see from the screengrab I took of the OED definition).

It struck a chord…

‘Oh, Jim
Am I destined to
Forever sufferance thy scrip?’

Reading Between The Lines…

Or am I reading the ACTUAL lines?

Contradictions? Oxymorons? Paradoxes?

I’m no longer sure what it is now…or what I do with it? 

Everything in life is always open to our own interpretations of it and of course many things affect our interpretation of things – our own mental state being the biggest contributing factor on that. 

I have discussed in the past how much I (over) analyse Jim’s posts. This morning was no exception. 

“Don’t take things so seriously” seemed to be the first focus of the post. Well, that’s all good! Have you SEEN this blog?! Lol. But I know I’ve lost my way with that lately. The more confident you are, you more you are able to shirk off any doubts and that makes humour easier. 

The self-deprecating humour I can exude is deeply steeped in actual self-loathing. I can brush it off as me just taking the piss out of myself when I know deep down the reality of it is VERY different. 

Take last week in Paris for example. I met up with a person in the fandom that I was absolutely petrified to meet. Just the day before they had joked that they were going to leave Paris now they were aware that I was turning up. As much as I wanted to believe they were piss-taking and pulling my leg, the feeling that they were being genuine in their feeling of this (that they were dreading bumping into me and would leave Paris) had overridden.

I saw them on the day of the gig. I recognised them from the moderate distance I was located from them when first seeing them on the day. I stayed ‘incognito’. Not wanting to alert them of my presence. Fear of the reaction I would conjure up within them. That what I was feeling would manifest and they’d repel at seeing me. 

We then did bump into each other. I was close enough to swallow down my self-loathing enough to say hello. They reacted much as I had feared – but it soon became apparent to me it was meant entirely in jest as they then asked for a hug. 

Did that hug wash away everything else within me? I’d like to say ‘yes’…but not entirely. It quelled it, but it didn’t eradicate it.

The more I am aware that confident people radiate a kind of self-love that makes them attractive, the more I see how much self-loathing I have and how very unattractive I am. And I don’t know how to get myself out of that.

For a time it was working. I just…gave myself a break. And I forced myself to…love myself…for want of a better term. I could start to love myself then because I felt so much love! Well…not so much ‘love’ but I felt…worthy. If I didn’t have ‘self-love’ per se, I had ‘self-worth’. I allowed myself to believe that I mattered. 

I can feel that I have lost a lot of what I had gained in recent years. That woman who stood in front of Jim at the Walk Between Worlds album signing – as nervous and sick with dread as she was? – she’s as gallus as they come compared to where I am now. That one in 2018 that stood in a crappy brown coat because she was too nervous to take it off and look good. Too many things in her hands. Too much else to concentrate on. Too preoccupied with not trying to boak on the floor. Throwing down a bag of sherbet straws, smiling, asking for something else to be signed – gallus! – conversing with Jim! Recording a bloody quiz show just a couple of weeks before that! Where the hell did THAT come from? The woman who actually went on TV to participate in one of the toughest quiz shows on telly! Where did she come from? Where did she go?

That ‘Gallus Girl’ of 2018.

I genuinely marvel at someone like Sarah. To hear her talk, of how she was, of her upbringing in Aylesbury – how she does what she does night after night astounds me. Then again, I can feel that thing she gets from Jim. Well…it was something that I used to get anyway.

I described it once as a phial of…magic. This wee bottle of elixir that gave me all the strength, drive and purpose (well, if not actual purpose, the drive to at least SEE if I could FIND WTF my purpose is meant to be!)…the GALLUS I had in 2017 and 2018…vestiges of it in 2019. But I got greedy with it. I didn’t take from that wee phail of goodness moderately. I took and took from it. I overdosed on it. I think I had been ssooo starved of it that I just wanted it all. All the time. Every day. So often. 

Now it has all be sucked dry and nothing is left. In fact, it might be worse than it was at the start. 

I don’t know how to rebuild it. I don’t know how…

I’m trying to work past it with my university study. I am actually doing something that I had wanted to do for so very long doing this study. And I keep trying to justify WHY I am doing it. I’m trying to press home to myself that I am allowed to do this! That there is a purpose to it but I am finding it hard to actually see that. 

“I’m sure you’d agree that there are some people who just make you feel good when they are around”, says Jim in his post today. I wish more than anything in the world I could be that person! 

Back to the person I met on Friday…they said to me that they had been anticipating meeting me. That they actually think I’m pretty awesome and talented and what not and I am trying hold back tears when they’re saying this stuff to me because I don’t want to cry in front of them…but the tears are welling up in my eyes now because….they didn’t have to say those things and I never expected in a million years for them to say those things to me – AND I DON’T FEEL WORTHY!! And because I feel that way about myself, I expect everyone else to feel that way about me. And when they don’t, I am astounded.

Icarus and The Sun.written in 2016

How I am with Jim – I feel like Icarus. Jim is the sun and I, as Icarus, fly too close and my wings melt. And I keep on trying to grow new wings and they get singed too. I want to bask in that warmth so much, I risk endless signed wings for just a few tantalising moments. Fleeting glipses. It’s never enough.

I try too hard. But I don’t try enough. I’m persistent…but a quitter. Ignorant – but overly alert and overly analysing. I am my own oxymoron. I am a paradox. And I feel that everyone hates me as much as I hate myself. 

Actually, I feel like only one person hates me more than I hate myself – Jim. And it shouldn’t matter. But it does.