Marilyn Ashford Brown - Still Standing (2009)

Marilyn Ashford Brown
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Imagine encountering a sleek, luxury automobile; classic in appearance, versatile enough to navigate multiple terrains and loaded with fuel and firepower. You jump in the driver's seat, eager to take off....and there's no steering wheel. Agonizing scenario, huh? Well, that's what listening to Marilyn Asford Brown's Still Standing is like: all of the potential of a hitmaker, but without the guidance in place to properly showcase her talents.

Imagine encountering a sleek, luxury automobile; classic in appearance, versatile enough to navigate multiple terrains and loaded with fuel and firepower. You jump in the driver's seat, eager to take off....and there's no steering wheel. Agonizing scenario, huh? Well, that's what listening to Marilyn Asford Brown's Still Standing is like: all of the potential of a hitmaker, but without the guidance in place to properly showcase her talents.

Ms. Brown has been, according to her liner notes, honing her craft for decades, garnering professional credits by working with soul titans like the late Lou Rawls and opening for the great, late Phyllis Hyman. "Number One," one of the ten songs that she composed on ...Standing, actually placed at #76 on the Billboard chart. Her stage presence is also nothing to sneeze at, considering that she was selected to perform by the Congressional Black Caucus in 2008 and witnessed then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama earn the evening's highest honor, the Phoenix Award. So, given those qualifications, listeners have the right to expect more from the what ...Standing actually delivers.

To give credit where credit is due, Ms. Brown has a warm, supple soprano and isn't afraid to flex her pen game on a variety of different styles and subjects: she veers with ease from confessing her love for the saviour ("Jesus In Me"), a love gone wrong ("It Took Too Long To Learn"), yearning ("Don't Wanna Be Lonely Tonight") and even the wicked ways of the world (the societal statement "Maybe" and the 'ladies first' anthem "Respect Me"). As executive producer, she is obviously at ease with her long-time band and they do create some sublime moments together ("What I Feel," "I've Been Waiting"), but what's missing is continuity. First of all, Ms. Brown jumps from one vocal style to the next, often in the same lyric and verse, so it sounds like she can't decide if she wants to be Patti LaBelle or Diana Ross. What might be an attempt to showcase the depth of her range comes across, in the end, as annoying and amateurish. And while all true soul music lovers appreciate real music over recycled, the perfunctorally-performed tracks, which seem devoid of any modern edges, leave a canned aftertaste.

Still Standing, while not the Lexus that it could be, certainly isn't worthy of the scrap heap either: all Ms. Brown needs is to do is add power steering, and for a woman of her talents, it should be straight cruising all the way.

By Melody Charles

[Editor's Note: Marilyn's second album is slated for release Sept. 9, 2009]

 
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