Hugh Christopher Brown – Pacem (Wolfe Island Records)
Canadian music fans of a certain vintage know him simply as Chris Brown: one half of a duo with Kate Fenner, founding member of ’90s soul orchestra Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, auxiliary keyboardist with the Tragically Hip and Barenaked Ladies. The professional name change ensures there’s no confusion with a certain R&B star with a rap sheet.
Speaking of rap sheets, this Chris Brown has spent time behind bars lately: with the Pros and ConsProject, making music with inmates in Pittsburgh Institution near Kingston, Ontario. That Brown would be involved in such an endeavour is hardly surprising: his entire lyrical output for the last 35 years has been about empathy, and its manifestations in both the macro and micro views. “Cynicism is an early death,” he sings on an older song resurrected here (a song that deserves to be sung by Mavis Staples—can someone get on that?), and it’s a theme that runs through all his work.
This is Brown’s first proper solo recording in years, and to make it he drew extensively from the community he’s cultivated on Wolfe Island, where he moved from New York City in the last decade. There, he draws from local Kingston artists, old Toronto friends and new discoveries, including the Indiana singer David Corley, whose Brown-produced record has built a cult audience in Europe for the late-blooming performer. Pacem is a showcase for Brown’s new crew and his production style, too, based out of an old post office on Wolfe Island.
Part of what has always made Brown an MVP on the scene is his generosity, and on what is ostensibly a solo record he often surrenders vocals to his peers: Fenner, Corley, Suzanne Jarvie, and, on the opening track “Prayer of St. Ignatius” (“The Prayer for Generosity”), classical singer Sherry Zbrovsky. It’s the most musically diverse collection Brown has ever put out, and it’s a welcome return from a songwriter who has a lot to give.
Hugh Christopher Brown will be performing at the Rivoli in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 24, along with the Stephen Stanley Band, whose new record was produced by Brown.
Stream: "Here Comes My Love," "Love the World," "The Great Unknowing”