Bobby Brooks Wilson - It's About Time

Bobby Brooks Wilson
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The voices that touch us most in song are quite often attached to persons who have endured the most trying of situations in life. Contrastingly, years of practice and performing experience may sometimes result in technically glowing performances devoid of substantial feeling. It's About Time, the debut album by Bobby Brooks Wilson, is proof of both scenarios.

The voices that touch us most in song are quite often attached to persons who have endured the most trying of situations in life. Contrastingly, years of practice and performing experience may sometimes result in technically glowing performances devoid of substantial feeling. It's About Time, the debut album by Bobby Brooks Wilson, is proof of both scenarios.

Undergoing a plethora of tumultuous health ailments throughout his childhood (spent largely in foster homes), Brooks found healing in music. Although the legendary Jackie Wilson served as an inspiration in his eventual professional pursuits of music as an adult, not until much later did it occur to Brooks that there might be a genetic link to the skills he had begun crafting as an impersonator of Wilson. The one-time Navy WT1 entered a talent contest on a whim, and from thereon began honing his chops at venues ranging from Karaoke bars to Atlantic City nightclubs. It's thus fitting that half of It's About TIme is composed of Wilson favorites, while the remainder is a mixture of originals and other soul covers.

The Four Tops' Levi Stubbs and Lawrence Payton ultimately helped Brooks confirm his identity as Wilson's son. Attending one of his shows, they were not only impressed with his vocal skills, but also his remarkable resemblance to Jackie in mannerisms and presence. Indeed, that refined quiver that Mr. Excitement perfected on "Lonely Teardrops" and countless other recordings comes through in Brooks' own performances here. He has a somewhat more formal approach to certain lines in the songs, but the end result is usually rich with feeling and enthusiasm. This is especially evident on the fulfilling remake of the staple, "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher." Complemented by a festive rhythm section arrangement, Brooks evokes both elegance and earnestness in his assured phrasing.

Album producer Tony Mantor does a commendable job of rounding up highly capable musicians for It's About Time. Yet, in trying to capture nostalgic musical vibes reminiscent of Wilson's era, the overall sound at times comes out oddly subdued and generic in approach. Such is the case with "It Only Happens (When I Look at You)," a tune culled from Nobody But You—Jackie's final album released in 1976. Brooks conveys the innocent passion of the lyric well, but gets a little lost in the mix by the end of the meandering groove. More satiating and impressive in both vocal prowess and arrangement zeal is "Just Call My Name," another hidden gem from Nobody. The updating of several lines to reflect prevalent modern-day modes of communication (e.g., "Girl, I planned to text you," instead of the original "I planned to write to you") fits surprisingly well into the old-timey feel of the production. But most importantly, Brooks sounds comfortable and flows right along with the instrumentalists.

Aside from the Wilson classics, Brooks also tackles Otis Redding's standard, "I've Been Loving You Too Long." To say this is a tall order would be an understatement; but the singer proves himself more than well-equipped for the task at hand. Whether it's the smooth lead-ins or the gruff climaxes, he's confident in his delivery. There are a couple of isolated moments when the vibe is more of showmanship than of raw emotion—minor enough, however, as to not deter from the overall soul-deep vibe. Yet on the original "I Can't Love You Anymore," his soulfulness is more reserved. The real-life yearning he displays on most of the set seems to be replaced on this cut by a more self-conscious style that is perhaps a result of working the tribute-show circuit for many years.

As a whole, It's About Time is a solid statement of reverence both for the legacy of Jackie Wilson and the sanctity of traditional soul music. There are a few instances where a uniform production approach inhibits both the arrangements and the album's star from going all the way. More often than not, though, Bobby Brooks Wilson's vocal delivery and his musicians' playing is well-founded, vibrant, and memorable.   Recommended.

by Justin Kantor


 
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