Norman Brown has a lot to live up to.
Since the release of his critically acclaimed 2002 album, Just Chillin' - which won a Grammy® in the prestigious Best Pop Instrumental Category - this innovative and original guitarist has been front and center in the fast evolving fusion of pop, R&B and jazz that has captured the imagination of true music aficionados across the country and around the world.
Now, with the release of West Coast Coolin', Norman Brown consolidates his reputation as a premier recording and performing artist with a collection of ten tracks -- written and co-written by the artist - that take the sonic adventure of Just Chillin' into breathtaking new spheres. It's an innovation due in large part to Brown's exceptional skills as a distinctive urban vocalist, with the specially selected tracks of West Coast Coolin' providing the perfect vehicle for this dazzling new facet of his career. As a result, Norman Brown joins a very select list of versatile urban artists gifted as both instrumentalists and vocalists.
"My fans kept asking me to do more singing," explains Brown on the impetus and inspiration behind West Coast Coolin'. "At the same time I wanted to go further into some of the great Soul and R&B sounds that have been such a tremendous influence on me. I tried to bring those two goals together on this new album." Assisting in the process was a top flight team of producers, including Paul Brown, the man behind the boards for both Just Chillin' and its predecessor, 2000's Celebration, as well as the accomplished R&B and Urban Contemporary producers James Poyser and Viktor Dupliax (known for their work with Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, D'Angelo and Macy Grey), who likewise had a hand in the magic of Just Chillin'.
The result is a dazzling collection of consummately crafted tracks that showcase both Brown's urban vocals skills on such tracks as "I Might," "Angel" and "Come Over" and his richly nuanced guitar styling on key cuts like "Up N At Em," "Let Play " and "Right Now." Simply put, West Coast Coolin' delivers on all the promise of this extraordinary artist...and then some.
All which should come as no surprise to savvy music fans. Over the course of five landmark releases and a virtually constant itinerary of international touring, this gifted and gloriously versatile guitarist and vocalist has established himself as one of a handful of preeminent instrumentalists and composers in contemporary musical realms, setting a standard for virtuosity that has placed the Shreveport, La. native in a category of one.
It's a love affair with music that began at the tender age of eight, after the family had relocated to Kansas City. It was there that Brown first heard the mind-blowing brilliance of Jimi Hendrix and determined to make the guitar his life. The obligatory garage rock apprenticeship followed, but it was Brown's steelworker father who eventually introduced his son to the equally life-changing influence of Wes Montgomery and turned his talents toward jazz.
After graduating high school, Brown headed west to study at the renowned Musician's Institute in Los Angeles, eventually landing a teaching job at the school even as he put together his first jazz combo and began playing on the city's thriving club scene. Adding George Benson to his list of seminal influences, Brown had already garnered a small but fanatical following when he landed his first recording contract with Motown Records. Over the course of the next four years he released three critically acclaimed albums, Just Between Us (1992), the gold-selling After The Storm (1994) and Better Days Ahead (1996). The decade drew to a close with a new label, Warner Bros. Records, and one of his most accomplished and assured offerings, the above mentioned Celebration, which marked the beginning of his fruitful collaboration with ace producer Paul Brown.
Celebration was followed, two years later, by the Grammy winning Just Chillin', spotlighting an altogether more laid back sound and an A-list of supporting vocalists that included Michael McDonald, Chante Moore, Miki Howard and others.
The album was followed by a further round of extensive touring that included SRO appearances in North America, Japan, Europe and Africa, where Brown played for wildly appreciative audiences. Even with his packed calendar he somehow managed to find time to begin writing new material that built and elaborated on the innovations of West Coast Coolin'.
"I knew I wanted to get more into singing," he reveals, "so most of the songs I wrote had that purpose in mind. At the same time I wanted to move deeper into the R&B grooves that I'd been exploring both on stage and in the studio. I was interested, more than anything, it giving the music the space to evolve." That intent got a powerful boost with a 2002 Grammy for Just Chillin' as Best Pop Instrumental. "It was a tremendous affirmation," Brown acknowledges. "I knew I was heading in the right direction."
It's a direction that, on West Coast Coolin', has brought Norman Brown to some of the most singularly satisfying musical soundscapes of his lifelong journey. "It's important to reach your audience, to give them an experience they will remember," he concludes. "But music is also about finding out what gives you joy and pursuing that. I think on this album, I've managed to do both."
In the process, Norman Brown has lived up to an expectation for originality that continues to grow with each concert and every new album.