For Brian Courtney Wilson, the adage rings true: he who has been forgiven much loves much. JUST LOVE, his national debut on Mathew Knowles’ Spirit Rising/Music World Entertainment, is a fitting end-cap to a journey where love has reigned supreme—a natural response to the untold amounts of grace the singer has been bestowed over the years.
For an artist who is driven by faith, Wilson is a rarity among his peers. Stylistically, he falls into the urban inspirational side of the R&B and Gospel spectrums, but one listen to his remarkable debut album, JUST LOVE, reveals he’s not concerned with merely wielding his convictions in the face of those with ears to hear. Produced by Stan “STANtastic” Jones (Yolanda Adams, The Williams Brothers), JUST LOVE reveals Wilson is a man who wants to let his own life’s walk do the talking.
Raised in the Chicagoland area, Wilson got an early taste of love’s inner workings at Rock of Ages Baptist Church, where he sang in the adult male chorus as a young kid. Incidentally, it wasn’t the music that drew him to lend his voice to the group. “It was cool for me because they put a lot of emphasis on the fellowship aspect of doing music,” Wilson says. “The most important thing wasn’t to get the part right. The most important thing was talking through the issues—carrying each other’s burdens.”
That sense of community gave a new dimension to Wilson’s then-young musical mind. Driven by a passion for camaraderie, he went on to join the black chorus at the University of Illinois, where he obtained a degree in liberal arts and sciences with an emphasis on economics.
With a college diploma on his wall, Wilson took a job in sales, a gig that would land him opportunities in both the computer and pharmaceutical industries. “I never thought of doing music as a profession,” Wilson says.
Comfortable in his own skin and his 9-to-5, Wilson let music take a backseat. Singing still played a role in his life, but it was only an aspiration—an afterthought that never really took off because his heart wasn’t entirely in it. “I was kind of chasing the R&B, 106 & Park dream,” Wilson says. “I was dreaming about it, but I wasn’t pursuing it. It was a dream that I had no clue about.”
All along, the faith of the R&B hopeful was suffering. For someone who did most of his formative singing in church, Wilson says he reached a point where he wasn’t looking to be fed spiritually. Instead he was led to feast on things that ran counter God’s vision for his life, eventually falling into a downward spiral of spiritual detachment, ill-advised decisions, and moral recklessness.
“My life was nothing to brag about,” Wilson confesses. “I was a lost soul. I did a lot of things where I missed the mark. God had a plan for my life, but I got off track because I didn’t know that plan.”
Providentially, it wasn’t until Wilson took the fateful step of moving to Houston that he began to comprehend God’s eternal blueprint. Still involved in sales, Wilson set up shop in Space City to work for Johnson & Johnson, but God had a bigger job for him: to visit Windsor Village United Methodist Church.
“I wasn’t even saved when I went,” says Wilson of his first few visits. “I was going because a friend of mine told me it was cool church to be at.”
In time, the curiosity paid off. For the first time ever, Wilson made a decision to believe in Christ for himself. “I felt His presence in my life for real,” he says, “as opposed to just believing what my parents told me.”
As an infant in the faith, he was nourished and taken care of by his Windsor Village family, but did not quite yet know the ropes of mature, Spirit-led living; he took his share of falls. “Even after I accepted Christ and tried to live the right life, I made mistakes,” Wilson says. “Choices I had made in the past created habits that I hadn’t broken. It made me want to run and hide.”
Through the guilt and the shame, Wilson’s new home church threw its loving arms around him, providing him with a snapshot of God’s boundless love—at the moment in short supply in Wilson’s life. As he dealt with his personal demons, Wilson says that “God’s love was the only way to ever be able to do what God had for me to do. That was the power.”
Emboldened by God’s love, Wilson got the break of his life when he received an invitation from the church to write music for its services. When Wilson saw that the songs he was writing were catching on with churchgoers and some local radio stations, he began to sense the call of music ministry tugging at his heart.
“I remember feeling miserable,” Wilson says. “I went, ‘Man, I’m a pharmaceutical sales rep. I think I can do more.’”
One glad morning, tired of drowning out the voice of the Spirit, Wilson decided to simply step out on faith and heed the call to ministry. It was during that period that Wilson met Pastor Rudy Rasmus, a local minister who was looking for church songs to pitch to longtime friend Mathew Knowles. Once Knowles heard the Wilson original “Already Here,” he was sold.
Wilson was put on the fast track. Almost overnight, Knowles decided to make Wilson a part of Spirit Rising Music—Music World’s fledgling inspirational imprint. The label, Wilson says, was the perfect home for his music: “It seemed like a good fit for me. It’s a place where I can do more than just church music: music for the world that’s rooted in the church.”
Indeed, JUST LOVE was fashioned from a deeply spiritual place, yet possessing all the trademarks of a winning contemporary R&B album. It combines under one roof Wilson’s various influences, including the soulful expressiveness of Donny Hathaway, the worshipful fervor of Fred Hammond, and even the sharp lyricism of tunesmiths like John Mayer and Nichole Nordeman.
Nearly autobiographical in content, JUST LOVE represents the different corners of Wilson’s life, as if his testimony had been put to music. Rousing first single “All I Need” is one of the early peaks of the disc, a heartfelt cry that finds Wilson imploring God to touch his life. As a counterpoint, “No Other” is the celebration after the Master’s touch—a floor-stomping, club-ready slice of rhythm-and-praise that declares Wilson’s unflinching dependency on God and God alone.
More striking still is “Simply Redeemed,” a re-make by hitmaker Tommy Simms and a powerful ballad that recounts Wilson’s unique journey of faith. “I’m not perfect, but I have been redeemed,” croons Wilson in one of the opening lines, thus inviting other believers to see themselves in the words of the song. It’s a classic melody, made all the more poignant by a memorable accompaniment consisting of piano and a strong rhythmic bed. Bound to become a signature song in Wilson’s repertoire, it’s the type of composition life songs are made of: at once tender, earnest, and passionate.
A tribute to St. John’s UMC, the church that saw him grow into the man he is today, the title track is a beautiful portrait of the sense of belonging and community Wilson has encountered at his Houston church. If only more houses of worship reflected the grace Wilson so readily describes in the song’s charming refrain: “We love you and there’s nothing you could ever do about it/If you get off track, turn around and come right back.”
Love songs to God and fellow men give way to expressions of earthly, marital affection. Unconditional love is at the forefront of “Believe,” a gorgeous tune Wilson dedicates to his beloved wife Stacey that has all the makings of a future wedding classic.
Regardless of the brand of love Wilson sings about on JUST LOVE, every word that comes out of his mouth is an outpouring of the grace that has been lavished upon him.
“Every good thing that’s happened to me it’s happened because of God’s favor and grace in my life,” Wilson says. “Even the stuff that he’s calling me to do, I can’t do it on my own. I can work as hard as I can, but ultimately God provides the increase.”