The modern gospel artist has a fine line to walk. On one hand, the music they offer has to be close enough to the traditional gospel sound and message that it doesn't alienate those who've come up with greats like Shirley Caesar and the Mississippi Mass Choir as their Sunday soundtrack. On the other, the music has to be current enough that it doesn't alienate the younger audience who identify more with the Kirk Franklins of the world. The Winans clan have perhaps been the most notable bearers of that torch, but at times you wish for more new, refreshing voices. That's why it's always wonderful to hear someone like Brian Courtney Wilson, who knows how to walk that line just fine--and to great effect, too. His latest effort, So Proud, is the follow-up to his chart-topping 2009 album, Just Love, and shows that his light is in no danger of growing dim.
"Lord, let me be a symphony..." Brian requests on album opener "Right Back." What follows after is nothing short of that. Just as with his debut, he utilizes more traditional elements like a full choir, pianos, and organs to drive home his praise and worship. But he also adds flourishes of contemporary R&B and adult contemporary, with synthesized horns here and there and slickly produced numbers reminiscent of '90's-era radio grooves. On each track his voice, somewhat a cross between Bebe Winans and Alexander O'Neal, is reassuring and full of praise. This sound comes as no surprise, though, as he's enlisted producers like Stan Jones (who was behind his Brian's previous hit "All I Need") and P.J. Morton to pitch in on this album.
Aside from "Right Back" there a quite a few memorable moments. "He Still Cares" is instant motivation for anyone who's downtrodden as Brian reminds that God hasn't forgotten you. Meanwhile, "Keep Pressing On," with its muted trumpet flourishes and funky bassline, is a winner that brings a youthful flair to an initially staid beginning. That momentum keeps going with the Morton-penned "One Day At a Time," which focuses on keeping a marriage strong even during trying times. "Obey Anyway" takes on the topic of spiritual obedience and goes hand-in-hand with the message found in "Storm In Mind," which speaks on trials that we were put here to endure. Each of these songs, as well as a few others that I didn't mention, really show Brian's ability to communicate with everyone and not just those sitting in church pews.
However, the show-stopping moment of the set is his duet with gospel great Vanessa Bell Armstrong on "Unspeakable Joy." It starts a bit subdued as Brian leads off the song, his tenor steady and sure. However, when Vanessa joins in and the two begin to harmonize, it takes off to a new height. Their voices work so well together that when the song crescendos and the two really begin to belt, it's not off-putting but welcomed.
Rounding out the set are "You Are My King" and title track "So Proud." "You Are My King" isn't anything groundbreaking. In fact, it sounds like a song that BeBe would've done. There's nothing wrong with that, but after such great material before it, you come to expect more of the innovative selections and something a bit less derivative. Luckily, "So Proud" delivers. Once again taking R&B influences and using them to minister without sounding "preachy," the song tells stories of the proud people in his life that still knew how to give God his due.
So Proud is another shining moment for Brian Courtney Wilson after the success of Just Love. Though it isn't without some faults, those that embraced him on his first album (and those who might have never heard him before) shouldn't have any problem making this one a part of their gospel collections as well.