“Soul singers sing out of their heartache,” says Bryan Andrew Wilson. “However, they don’t usually sing about a solution to the heartache which for me is God. I sing about some of the same topics R&B artists sing about but I’d like to think my music offers spiritual medicine for a sick soul.” Wilson, a twenty-year music veteran at the age of 30, provides a multitude of soulful observances of life on his Stellar Award nominated comeback CD The One Percent (EchoPark JDI Entertainment/Caroline Distribution) that has more in common with the melodious stylings of John Legend or Aloe Blacc than his gospel peers. “It’s not regular Sunday morning church music,” says Wilson. “A lot of people in my generation are tired of institutional church because of clergy scandals but we still have a spiritual hunger so these songs touch on feelings we all share about life, relationships, work, God.”
Wilson wrote or co-wrote ten of the set’s 13 tracks that he says, “reflect the ups and downs of faith without preaching. It’s just one man talking out loud about what he’s been through in his life while also seeking a relationship with God.”
The musical roots of The One Percent are soiled with rhythms ranging from Stevie Wonder-styled ballads and `60s-flavored Soul to Caribbean and Go-go beats. “This album reflects who I am as a grown man and a believer more than any other album I’ve recorded,” Wilson says of his first project since 2008. “This is a wide array of musical styles but it still all gels together.”
The theme of The One Percent hails from the Bible’s Parable of the Lost Sheep. “The message is to neglect no one and to leave no one behind – emotionally, spiritually or in terms of their human needs,” says Wilson who has been singing professionally since the age of ten. “We have to stop preaching at people and encourage them instead. This album let’s people know that regardless of what they are going through there is hope and a positive way to deal with issues and triumph.”
I wonder how I got here, what did I do to get here?
Somehow I made the wrong turn and now I’m lost and burned
With those words, Wilson opens “Turning Away,” the album’s chilling Top 15 Billboard Gospel Airplay hit, in a stripped down, repentant declaration. “The lyrics reflect how I felt when I decided to stop skating through life and get serious about being an adult,” he says. “We went in the studio and cut the whole thing in less than three hours and it’s probably the most intense and heartfelt song on the whole album.”
There are plenty of other passionate musical outbursts though. The devotion Wilson sings of on the British Mod-inspired groove “I’m Yours” and the rocker “With Every Beat of My Heart” is as intimate as any love letter. Wilson, who attempted suicide when he was a teenager, puts all of those dark thoughts behind him on the soul stirring, “And It’s Over.”
Depression clouds pouring down rain, soaked in sorrow, drenched in pain
Then Your voice echoing came saying child now don’t you faint
I stopped the pity party and I started laughing hearty
And put a smile on my face, I made a decision
This is the benediction, I have come to the finishing phase
Wilson empathizes with those who feel like failures on the Go-go beat “Victory” where he chants, “Have you felt all alone? All your hope was gone and in life you felt every choice you’ve made was wrong?” However, problems are just temporary distractions because he later proclaims that “We are more than conquerors” on the funky swirl of blazing horns on “Conqueror“ that was produced by Justin Gilbert (Justin Timberlake’s Keyboardist for The 20/20 Experience Tour) with Ted Winn and Anthony Parrish. The Major3rd Production team contributed the club-friendly track “Faithful God” that finds Wilson at the epicenter of an explosion of disco, soul and gospel that comes off as both nostalgic and fresh.
Speaking of nostalgia, Ben E. King’s 1961 gem “Stand By Me” gets a festive Caribbean treatment and Wilson infuses a Jazzy swing into “I’m Standing,” a rollicking duet with Duranice Pace of The Anointed Pace Sisters. Singing guitarist Levi Stephens cut the `50s sock-hop track “Pick Me” and Kevin A. Younger straddled the fence of Christian Pop and the black church to fuse Jesus Culture’s “Show Me Your Glory” and William Reagan’s “Set A Fire” into a worship medley. The set closes with an old school-styled Sunday morning hymn entitled “Just As We Are” that showcases rich piano chords, hearty organ rumblings, a thunderous choir and Wilson doing his most dramatic performance on this set – it’s quite a compelling altar call that God accepts us all as we are.
Music is in Wilson’s blood. His late grandfather Tommy Davis was a Mississippi quartet singer who played with B.B. King in his pre-stardom days and Wilson’s mother Sheila was a vocalist with the R&B group WQBC that scored R&B hits such as “I’ll Be Loving You” in the 1980s. Wilson’s neighbor Carol Parker heard him singing to the grass when he was ten years old and sent a cassette of him singing to an acquaintance at Malaco Records – recording home of Bobby “Blue” Bland and Johnnie Taylor at the time. They signed the kid up and he made a splash singing “His Eye on the Sparrow” with the Mississippi Children’s Choir in 1994. The choir’s A New Creation CD sold over 100,000 units and Wilson was lauded as a child prodigy because of the dramatic high notes and vocal runs he displayed on the performance. Gospel legends such as Kirk Franklin, John P. Kee and Walter Hawkins produced tracks on his solo debut Bryan’s Songs in 1996. He followed-up with Growing Up in 1999 but was at a career crossroads. “My voice changed and I couldn’t hit the high notes anymore,” Wilson recalls. “All the love people had for me left almost overnight. I was no longer the cute kid and I was no longer in demand and I became depressed and suicidal.”
Thinking his music career was over; Wilson went on to college and earned a B.A. in religion and philosophy from Claflin University before completing a year of Master’s of Divinity study at Princeton University’s Theological Seminary. “After college, I wandered around aimlessly for awhile,” he adds. “I just wasn’t motivated to do anything.” He eventually pulled himself together and began recording again, releasing A Second Coming (2008) and Limited Edition (2012). At the same time, Wilson felt called to pastor (he’d been preaching since he was 17), and although he fought it for a while; he eventually surrendered and founded The Bapolstogic Movement, a 501C3 church organization to bring authentic Pentecostal worship to Generations X, Y and beyond.
“My whole mindset and approach to music has changed since I became a pastor,” Wilson says. “As a child, I used to sing what producers gave me whether I liked it or not. Then, I sang what I liked to listen to but nowadays I really listen to the hearts of people and I read the blogs and online newspapers to see what’s really on people’s minds and I try to incorporate that into the songs I sing and the messages I bring. I’m hoping the music I do now doesn’t just entertain people; I’m hoping it encourages people – whether they are Christians or not - wherever they are in life.”
Photographer: Robert Shanklin