The miracle and genius of Brian Courtney Wilson’s music ministry has hardly gone unnoticed. As one of gospel music’s contemporary break-through artists of 2010 and a Gospel Music Association Dove Award nominee, his debut CD, JUST LOVE, entered at #2 on the Billboard Top Gospel Album chart and #6 on Billboard’s Top Christian Album chart. The CD has remained at #1 on Christian Music Trade Association’s (CMTA) Inspirational Album chart for over 40 weeks. Since its release in June 2009, the CD also has held steady in the Top 15 on the Billboard Top Gospel Album chart for over 62 weeks.
JUST LOVE debuted nationally on Music World Gospel, whose founder and CEO, Mathew Knowles, upon first meeting Wilson and listening to his single, “Already Here,” was immediately sold on Wilson’s singularly stylized music. The innovative Music World Gospel is dedicated to producing gospel and other forms of inspirational music. The label, Wilson says, has become the perfect home for his sacred art: “It’s a place where I can do more than just church music. I can do music for the world that’s rooted in the church.”
JUST LOVE’s first single release, “All I Need” is the longest-running current single, charting for over 70 weeks on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Song chart. In 2009, “All I Need” was named Song of the Year at the Mississippi Gospel Music Awards, which also saluted producer, Stan Jones, as Producer of the Year for his work on the project. The follow-up single, “Already Here” has been on the Billboard charts for over 60 weeks and remains in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Gospel Recurrent chart. The third and title single, “Just Love” remains in the Top 15 on the Billboard Hot Gospel Song chart.
As a fitting follow-up to JUST LOVE’s national debut, Music World Gospel’s relaunch of the JUST LOVE Deluxe Edition includes a DVD and a CD with five brand new songs—“Awesome God,” “The Word,” “Monday’s Pain,” “The Only Way,” and “This Christmas”—that amplify Wilson’s signature sound. In addition, the relaunch CD features all the previous songs from the debut recording. In the DVD, a button-downed, pin-striped Brian Courtney Wilson traipses the pulpit at Bethany Baptist Church in Lindenwold, New Jersey, rendering not a concert but a total worship service. They have church! Wilson sings, of course. Then Wilson also starts to minister: “It’s easy...to think that you’re all alone with this pain. I’m a witness that God answers laments like that. You are not alone.”
The opening single of the re-released JUST LOVE is “Awesome God.” Initially written for and previously recorded by the choir at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, where the Chicago native now lives, this strictly scripturally-based cut is nothing but musical majesty. “The Lord, my God,” the choir bellows, over and over, behind soloist Wilson as he declares “One voice can’t
praise Him enough. One man can’t tell the story. He’s too amazing. And His grace is so great. And His mercy is everlasting. And His truth endures through all generations. His truth endures forever!”
Snapping fingers set it off on “The Word,” which is about surviving whatever tricks life throws at us. It speaks of “hearing” a Word, confirming that “Everything would be alright. Every battle He would fight. I would make it through the night. He spoke a Word and it changed my life.”
Following that is the unpredictably jazzy “Monday’s Pain,” a real-deal take on how to fight back those Monday blues that creep in and take the glow off of Sunday’s celebration in the sanctuary. “When the highs turn to lows, and the doubt in me grows...Because what I feel seems to change, Sunday’s joy is Monday’s pain...Just fill me...Fall fresh...Don’t forget about me.” You hear those piano keys tinkling, those bass licks, the percussions as funky as they want to be. And it’s all in the name of the Most High God.
The multiracial, multicultural United Methodist Church has selected “The Only Way,” for its Zion Still Sings, the songbook used throughout that worldwide denomination. “There are times when our self- interest tempts us to go another way,” Wilson says. “But this song is a prayer to God about enduring the pain that comes with choosing to follow after Christ.”
As a solitary track, “Just Love” paints a portrait of family, whether blood relatives or surrogate kin, knitted together and thriving in one place. It is an ode to community and the sense of belonging that a community bestows on its members, no matter their stature or social standing. It is a tribute to St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, which embraced Wilson as a member, nurtured his growth and named him Cultural Music Director. What if every house of worship was awash in that sort of we-are-each-others-keeper love? What if every church affirmed, as this song does straight-out, that “We love you and there’s nothing you could ever do about it; if you get off track, turn around and come right back”?
More striking still, among the total of 14 tracks, is “Simply Redeemed,” a re-make of a classic ballad by hit-maker Tommy Simms. The song serves as a powerful recounting of Wilson’s unique journey of faith. “I’m not perfect, but I have been redeemed,” croons Wilson in an opening line. Nobody, Wilson convinces the listener, can fall so far away that an omnipotent, omnipresent God cannot reach him and return him to his rightful place. This song is poignantly accompanied by piano and a strong rhythmic bed. It is, at once, tender, earnest, impassioned, resolute.
“This Christmas,” the last single on the re-release, is a re-make that does much justice to the holiday classic favorite from the beloved Donny Hathaway.
Indeed, JUST LOVE emerged out of a deeply spiritual place that makes Wilson, the psalmist, unafraid to put his distinctive mark on gospel music. Stylistically, Wilson falls on the cusp with his melding of R&B, jazz and other genres with anthemic and other sacred song traditions.
Largely autobiographical in content, JUST LOVE is born out of Wilson’s own prodigal past and the reality that the same God who had Wilson, as a little boy, singing in the men’s chorus at Rock of Ages Baptist Church in his hometown, waited patiently after Wilson left that congregation. The church had lost its savor for Brian Courtney Wilson who, after leaving the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree and joining Johnson & Johnson Co. in Houston, his shiny new city, started habitually spending chunks of his corporate paycheck the same way his partying friends did on Saturday night.
Come Sunday morning, he was more likely to be nursing a hangover than slipping into a pew to worship. He was confused and adrift in those early post-college years, Wilson says, morally bankrupt and running amok. He was guilty of the kinds of sins only Jesus can forgive. Music was still on his
mind, yes, but not that church-y stuff. “I was kind of chasing the R&B, 106 & Park dream,” he says, giving a nod to that BET spotlight on non-gospel artists.
“I was a lost soul,” Wilson says. “God had a plan for my life, but I got off track.” What got him back in the right lane was a friend’s subtle invitation for Wilson to visit Windsor Village Church. At Windsor, Wilson came to fully understand who he was and what was calling. On JUST LOVE, the rousing single, “All I Need,” is both his testimony and his entreaty. It is a piercing, heartfelt cry for God to touch his life.
Yes, the CD offers songs about encouragement, a God of infinite love and love-filled community but it also yields to love on another level. “Believe” is a gorgeous tune about marital affections and vows. Dedicated to Wilson’s beloved wife Stacey, it’s bound to become a wedding classic.
Produced by Stan “STANtastic” Jones (Marvin Sapp, The Williams Brothers, Yolanda Adams), JUST LOVE Deluxe Edition reveals Wilson as one determined to let his private walk do the talking for him in public. It blends Wilson’s solitary interpretations of lyric and instrumentals with influences from his personal faves: the soulfulness of Donny Hathaway; Fred Hammond’s fervor; the on-point proclamations and protests of singer/songwriters John Mayer and Nichole Nordeman.
Wilson unabashedly gives us the proof of his years-long transformation. He shows himself turning back to God, who already had a plan and who sees down the long, crooked road of life and sends emissaries such as that friend who invited Wilson to take a seat that Sunday morning at Windsor Village.
“I wasn’t even saved when I went,” Wilson says. But he kept going back for more of what Windsor was professing about the Good News. “I began,” he says, “to feel His presence in my life for real, as opposed to just believing what my parents told me.”
God is real to Brian Courtney Wilson. “Every good thing that’s happened to me has happened because of God’s favor and grace in my life,” he says. “Even the stuff that He’s calling me to do, I can’t do it on my own. I can work as hard as I can, but ultimately God provides the increase.”