Without a doubt, Brian Courtney Wilson is one of gospel’s best new balladeers. His soulful way with a song places him alongside fellow sacred crooners Bebe Winans and Rev. Paul Morton.
So Proud is Wilson’s second CD (technically so: a Deluxe Edition of his debut, Just Love, contained previously unissued material). The front cover sports a photo of Wilson as a toddler, a retro set of cans on his head and a facial expression of startled but intense curiosity at the sounds contained therein.
The photo and the title track set the tone for a CD rife with between-the-lines autobiography. Wilson looks back and chronicles the emotional rollercoaster of his musical journey, and especially the faith it took to keep moving forward, with Sunday morning-style lessons for the listener.
So Proud is steeped in rejoinders to “be still and know.” For example, “He Still Cares” reminds us that God never forgets His own, that “joy is coming in the morning/In fact, joy is here.” “Storm in Mind” offers confidence that the human spirit is stronger than any setback, and “Closer” is a “message to the faithful” that God’s help is always a prayer away.
The best song on the CD – better even than the clearly autobiographical single “So Proud” – is “Grab and Hold.” Written by Wilson, “Grab and Hold” is a simple, lovely and lyrically effective ballad on the importance of holding tight to one’s faith during all times, especially in times of need. It comes closest to Wilson’s remarkable “All I Need.” I can hear other artists covering it in the future.
“Unspeakable Joy,” one of the album’s two songs of vertical thanksgiving, teams Wilson with Detroit gospel star Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Her Pentecostal-filled singing challenges Wilson to reach inward and pull out some shouting riffs of his own.
So Proud benefits from guitar work by quartet maven Castro Coleman and a top-shelf team of producers in Stan Jones, PJ Morton, Toby Hill and Aaron W. Lindsey. While the album overall is not as uniformly masterful as Just Love, it is -- Brian Courtney Wilson is -- a warming of the heart and soul.