Ah, the sufferin' did show in your eyes as we spoke,
And the gospel music,
The voice of Mahalia Jackson came through the ether,
Oh my common one with the coat so old,
And the light in the head
Did you get healed? Reasonable question. Simple Minds backing singer Sarah Brown making her debut is superb on a very fine Mahalia Jackson songbook album. It's of course gospel and yet there is a lot of jazz here (mainly in the piano and organ arrangements) which isn't often the case on most gospel although gospel has fed directly in to jazz for a hundred years via the African American church but exists in a whole world of its own usually as a genre. (But think: call and response routines among instrumentalists let alone singers and that's just for starters)
The rhumba feel of 'I'm On My Way' is an early high spot here. ''At 10 years old, I remember hopelessly trying to sing along to her bellowing thunder of a voice. In my bedroom I would become her. I chose these songs because they tell of my story. Growing up in a Caribbean home to parents who were a long way from their home. Anger and fear were the two prominent emotions that I lived with,'' Brown has commented regarding her route to Mahalia.
Best of all done as if we are in the deep countryside with simple guitar hard up against the vocal, and up there with Van Morrison's very different 1990s version on Hymns to the Silence, on 'Just a Closer Walk' which is the best version that I know by anyone covering a spiritual associated with Mahalia although there are lots of great versions around.
You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate this album. It works on multiple levels and is excellent given the power and flexibility of Brown's voice and is the most relevant vocals gospel record we've reviewed since the very fine Mica Paris album, Gospel.
If there's any justice Brown, who reminds me a little of Dana Masters, will have to start enlarging the size of her mantle piece when specialist awards season comes around and it is commercial-sounding enough to sell without in the least selling out. But hey we're not mystic Meg but worth manifesting.
So, did you get healed, returning to that question at the beginning? That's an easy enough yes, in however way you think it, given the sheer quality here and Brown would work well among the singers on the opening night gala of the London Jazz Festival if free and Guy Barker is still looking and you'd guess digs. SG
Released on Friday. Sarah Brown, top
updated, 20 May 2022