“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/