Soul singer Ward Brown is from Chicago. However, he is not a household name on the order of R Kelly – another Windy City based R&B romancer. One reason is that the latter makes music that appeals to the youth oriented, hip-hop influenced R&B market that places a premium on lyrics that are often explicit in their description of bedroom exploits. It’s not that the old school singers shied away from vocalizing their romantic adventures. However, the ever-present censors often forced lyricists to be a little more creative.
Brown, a soul music veteran draws his influence from the generation of well-rounded love men who placed romance and being a gentleman on equal par with their efficacy in the sack.. Brown is painfully aware of the struggles faced by many adult oriented soul singers. He noted in several interviews that such singers get love from European audiences, who have a greater appreciation for soul music than American audiences. Brown responded by doing what other classic soul and alternative R&B artists have done – he tours extensively in Europe and records albums that sell well on that continent. In fact, Brown’s Bag – the band that he fronts – released two albums, Labor of Love and Soul Satisfied, that achieved commercial and critical success in Europe . Still, Brown longs to gain the attention of more American ears. The release of his solo effort – the appropriately titled Where I Should Be – gives voice to that desire.
There ought to be more space on the radio for mature vocalists who can employ a manly tenor voice to songs that reveal the longing for female companionship the way that Brown does on “Close To You” and the sentimental “The Key.” On the former, Brown strips away all of the artifice and phony swagger that afflicts too much of modern R&B and seeks to sing his woman’s heart (and I assume, her bedroom) by through lyrics that are honest and even reveal vulnerability. There ought to be a place in this country for a singer who can make dance floor worthy tunes such as “The Beg,” “Last Call” and “Hopelessly In Love.” The latter track even pays homage to the role that rap played in the evolution of R&B music by employing the melody from Whodini’s “Five Minutes of Funk.”
Brown dives deeper into our musical past on “The Beg.” That song features Raymond Earl of the 1970s band Instant Funk (“Got My Mind Made Up”). Brown dons the knee pads on this song as he finds himself pleading for his woman’s mercy after one transgression too many. Earl and Instant Funk show that they still have it. This number features the deep, bouncy bass line that was a trademark of so many great funk songs, along with southern soul guitar riffs and some Memphis style horn flourishes.
Bringing it all back home, the steppers anthem “Last Call” is Brown’s love letter to his Chicago home. The Windy City is the stepper’s capital of the world, after all, and there definitely ought to some room on radio playlists for “Last Call” in Chi-Town. And their certainly should be room in soul music lovers’ collections for an album like Where I Should Be. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes