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/

HOLY SWEET YASOOSE!!!

Get a load of this!!!

Bryan Ferry, Andy MacKay, Phil Manzanera and Paul Thompson all on the one stage again for a Roxy 50th tour – playing the Hydro on Oct 10th (happy early birthday present to me!)! *SCREAMS girly squeal*

IT IS OAN!!! I AM TOO FRIGGING EXCITED!

Never thought I’d ever get to see them play together in my life. Thought that ship had sailed. Soooo fucking excited. Oh, man!

You know where to get your info, social media, ya da ya da….

UPDATE: I’m in!!!

A Real Good Time?

I really am not the biggest fan of the live album. Never have been and probably even more so now I actually go to many gigs during the year. Get it wrong and it’s completely devoid of atmosphere and can just sound appalling and probably doesn’t “sell” what is otherwise a truly stellar live act. Get it right though (which in my view is VERY rare – much rarer than an act just getting the sound/atmosphere right on the night) – and wow!

I listened to this last night. If Mr Ferry still sounds and can deliver like this in a few weeks time at the Armadillo…I will be a very, VERY happy bunny!

The Gig List (As of 26/01/20)

Here’s my list of gigs to look forward to.

Something to keep me happy.

UPDATE: 27/01/2020 – NEW ADDITION*

Feb 1st – Field Music, Kelvingrove Art Gallery

Feb 10th – Polica (Warm Digits are support – and the reason I’m going), St Lukes and Winged Ox

March 3rd – Bryan Ferry, SEC Armadillo

March 10th – Simple Minds, Vega Copenhagen

March 12th – King Creosote, Royal Concert Hall

April 4th – Simple Minds, La Seine Musicale Paris

April 6th – Simple Minds, Arkea Arena Bordeaux

April 18th – Simple Minds, First Direct Arena Leeds

April 22nd – Simple Minds, 3Arena Dublin

April 25th – Simple Minds, SSE Hydro

May 14th, John Grant, Festival Theatre Edinburgh

June 17th – Crowded House, SSE Hydro

July 18th – Simple Minds, Teatro Greco Taormina

August 11th – Primal Scream*, Kelvingrove Bandstand

August 13th – Simple Minds, P&J Live Aberdeen

Dec 1st – Simple Minds & OMD, Margaret Court Arena Melbourne

Dec 3rd – Simple Minds & OMD, First State Super Arena Sydney

Dec 5th – Simple Minds, OMD and Eurogliders, A Day On The Green – Bimbadgen Winery Hunter Valley

Bryan Ferry – The Newest (and Biggest) Gig Wish Dream

Well…it started with Sophia Deboick in the New European magazine in April, 2018 greasing the wheels of me FINALLY taking a dive into Roxy Music and then my little talk with Jim about starting to get into them and him just reiterating the importance of Roxy and Bryan Ferry on Simple Minds and him (“No Roxy Music, no Simple Minds” he said to me) that compounded things.

I absolutely fell in love with early Roxy Music, esp. I confess I have still not delved into Bryan’s solo stuff as much…but honestly…what better excuse do I have!?

Despite not having as much of a delve into his solo stuff, Bryan quickly became very high on the agenda of a musical act to see.

When it seemed the money was going to appear last year, I had dallied with the notion of seeing him in Germany or at the Albert Hall…but the money just wasn’t around and I couldn’t. Then also this year, he was was playing a festival that was VERY local (I think near St Albans…? From memory) and he also played at the Summer Nights Festival at Kelvingrove Bandstand last year. The chances all slipped by.

But now, here we are! To Glasgow, my new home, and to Bryan playing the Armadillo on March 3rd, a few days before heading off to Copenhagen to see Simple Minds.

Can life get any sweeter? SOMEBODY PINCH ME!

I’ll be popping my cherry twice! My first (might end up being my only…who knows?) Bryan Ferry gig, and my first Armadillo gig (unless I happen to see someone else there beforehand. Though I doubt it).

😱😱😱😱

ROLL ON MARCH!

And of Bryan’s solo work I know…I love this…a reinterpretation of Robert Palmer’s Johnny And Mary – executed at the highest order.

UK Drum Show – September 21st, 2019 – Manchester

It was a bit of a palaver getting in to the venue. People had lined up promptly. I arrived there about 9.25am for the 9.30am start. The queue hardly moved in 30 mins. There was an appearance by Matt Garstka on the main stage due for 10am and many people who had paid to see it were still queued up outside at 9.55am. They were being filtered through by this point but they probably weren’t going to make it in. I hope Matt delayed things so people got in.

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I had booked to have a free drum lesson at the Trinity College booth for 10.15 and I just about made it in there. It was my first experience of an electronic kit. We were on Roland kits (can’t remember the model – lovely kit though) and had just a bit of basic tuition. We played along to Queen’s We Will Rock You and then to James Brown’s Hot Pants before going on to Blur’s Song 2 which did me in. Lol. It seems like it would be really straight forward, Song 2, but heck, there’s a whole lot of patting your head whilst rubbing your tummy stuff going on with that. Lol

I walked about a bit checking things out. Then I saw Emily Dolan-Davies and had a great chat with her and another man whose name I didn’t catch, but he was one of Nathan Shingler’s tutors. We had a good talk and he offered me some great pearls of wisdom in terms of how I get on with my own learning and stuff. I briefly met Nathan’s parents too.

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I went out for a bite to eat and then met up with fellow Minds fan Dave Kelly. We had a good chinwag and then went in to see Cherisse’s masterclass.

A fab masterclass it was too. We learned about Cherisse’s career. How she started out, who she’s drummed for professionally, as well as her performing demonstration medleys showcasing music from the acts she’s worked with.

Below are some vid from the masterclass of her talking about working with Mika and then talking about her time with Bryan Ferry and Paloma Faith and now her time with SM and showcasing a medley of Minds stuff (the observant amongst you will hear a little bit more of LITCoA ahead of its October 4th release).

She put on a great show and a really strong showcase of her immense talent. Jim’s tag of referring to her as “a little dynamo” is WHOLLY justified. For someone so petite, she has such power behind her! But also the subtlety when required.

 

She was doing a signing after the masterclass and I queued up just to say hi and to badger her for more lessons. Lol. Hopefully I’ll get to have a few in the weeks ahead.

As for kit that took my eye? Well, it needs to be about the sound and feel, but I was far too scared to test anything out. I have no real knowledge of what I want or need and a show like this isn’t really much of a buying experience for a complete beginner. Well, I don’t think anyway. So I was just looking at the aesthetics if kits. There was a beautiful looking Natal kit. The bass drums on the Natal’s are HUGE! I love the look of Rusty drums and there was a beautiful bass skin on display on their stall.

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But for looks and affordability, there was a lovely looking Gretsch there for £625. I know Dave Ruffy of Ruts DC plays on Gretsch kits and he always sounds awesome.

But Cherisse’s Tama kit looks and sounds amazing too. And I have been having most of my lessons on Pearl kits, so…how will I ever make my mind up?! Lol

After the brief chat with Cherisse and goodbyes with Dave, there was just time enough for another scoot about and a coffee over the road at the Costa before getting the coach back to London and onwards to home.

All in all, a fab day. I’d do it again.

The Doughnut Dinner 4 Four

I was listening in to Gary Crowley on BBC Radio London and he brought up the topic of musical dinner guests. You could invite four guests, dead or alive, to dine with. You could also share what you’d make or serve them to eat.

Gary’s own choice for guests were Nina Simone, John Lennon, Sly Stone and Siouxsie Sioux and he said he’d serve Italian and Japanese food.

He was asking listeners to submit their choices. I thought I’d fire off a quick email and send it in, never thinking he’d actually read it out!

Here he is reading out my choice of dinner guests and what I’d serve them. It is audio only, of course, hence the black screen but just click it to hear the audio.

Tantrum Doughnuts ALL THE WAY, BABY! Lol.

 

Ragtime Bry

A new release from Bryan Ferry at the end of November…inspired by his soundtrack work for the Netflix series Berlin Babylon. It sounds like it could be a goodun. I wonder if next year’s world tour will be airing this kind of vibe too?

Would really love to hear how Sea Breezes sounds. Only about five weeks to wait…

click the album image for more details

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