By Michael P Coleman
So often, we await a “leader” to show us the way, but I’ve always felt that we are the leaders. History bares it out: a middle aged seamstress launched the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. A Baptist preacher had a dream. And some say a carpenter saved the world.
So why can’t a guitarist — a legendary, Grammy-winning one, no less — release “the ultimate soundtrack for unity & self realization,” as his record label asserts, with his new The Highest Act Of Love?
Brown’s brilliant new album features eleven thought-provoking songs that “celebrate the spiritual and personal journey within each of us,” according to promotional materials for the album. “This is my gift and offering to my fans,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “My bid is that the music will be impactful, joyous, and entertaining, and bring a sense of peace and understanding.”
The artist has perfectly described the album, with one of my favorites being the soul-stirring “The King Is Here.” I had to find out about the tune’s genesis.
“I wrote that song in 2002, and it represents the divine essence of our nature,” Brown EXCLUSIVELY told me. “It’s the likeness of God that lives inside our being.”
Other highlights including the album’s title track and “Words Of Wisdom,” which features a captivating vocal by a relatively unknown singer, Baby Lee. Although the two met and first worked together over two decades ago, Brown was led to work with her again as he finalized the new project.
“My spirit instructed me to call her to work on this album,” Brown said. “I didn’t know why, as all of the songs I had written were instrumental. During a three month period, Baby Lee helped me understand where the vocals would go, and we wrote ‘Words Of Wisdom’.”
“A week after completing her performance, she became ill and she was placed into the ICU,” Brown continued. “Her voice was taken, and her health diminished. She never spoke again and she passed away five weeks later.”
“This song is Baby Lee’s long-awaited opportunity to sing to the world, as it became her last gift to the world.”
Brown collaborated with another of the world’s gifts on The Highest Act Of Love, the peerless Deniece Williams, on the new album’s lead single, a riveting cover of Williams’ 1976 classic, “Free.” Not many singers would cover a hit they recorded over 40 years ago, in the same key no less, but Williams and Brown nail it. As unbelievable as it is, their new version of “Free” improves upon the magical original hit.
“A lot of people have covered ‘Free’ — so far we’ve had about 30 covers of that song, I think. When I wrote it I had no idea that it would touch people in that way,” Williams EXCLUSIVELY told me. “Norman’s arrangement had a whole brand new thing happening with it, something that no one else’s version had, and I’ve heard a LOT of them. I’m in love with his particular rendition of my song the most.”
“The fact that he did it, and he felt that it would be a great start to getting his project jumped off, just absolutely thrills me,” Williams added.
You can hear that “thrill” in Williams’ performance. Simply put, with Brown’s guitar enveloping her heavenly vocals, the songbird never sounded better.
“It was an honor and a pleasure to work with Deniece,” Brown said. “She is a beautiful gift. She’s totally professional, but loose, spontaneous and honest.”
That’s a great description of the entire album, but I’d add “inspiring.” Most would agree that we could use a little unity in the world right now. If you’re in that number, check out Brown’s The Highest Act Of Love.
Norman Brown’s new The Highest Act Of Love is available at all major digital outlets and at retail February 22.