Mandy Brooks very fine album, Move On Up!, got considered for nomination for this year’s Grammys. Quite an achievement for a debut album. Daughter of a professional singer, Mandy has been performing with various bands since she was a teenager, including the Jimmy Scott Band. She’s recently formed a new band with Levi Lloyd, The Brooks Lloyd Band, one to watch out for. Down at the Crossroads chatted to Mandy about Move On Up!
DATC: Mandy, congratulations on your very fine Move On Up! album. It’s an album of mostly gospel songs with a distinctive bluesy feel to it. Tell us a bit about the background to the album and what you were trying to achieve?
Mandy: Thank you Gary! I love digging around in your “Down at the Crossroads” blog. It’s gold mine for reference and resource of Gospel Blues. I am honored to be on “Best Blues Album 2017” list!
As far as what I was trying to achieve with the Move on Up album, I had put music on the back burner for about 15 years. I’m not sure if I put it on the back burner or it was just part of my process/musical journey. Even though I was not very musically active during that time, there was a lot of personal development and discovery going on that I think was naturally integrated into the creative process and expression.
One day my son said “Mom, I found these recordings of you singing and you are a good singer.” “If you had a dream what would it be?” I said “I would make a CD.” And he said “You should do it”. So, my husband generously agreed to support it. He told me he was excited to help me create something that I could have as a keepsake and play for my grandkids.
But in the back of my mind I knew there was a lot more down in inside of me. I knew creating the CD would be just like opening a door to grow, connect with others and move on up in my circumstances. My logo is a mockingbird taking flight. That logo is very powerful imagery for me to keep strong and moving up.
Knowing that I had one shot at creating an album, I wanted to really make it count for something. I wanted express my faith in this album but not in a way that was preachy. I just wanted to express my faith in the context of revealing my views and my inner workings and create something that would hopefully bring people joy and encouragement.
DATC: You’ve done a really nice version of Bob Dylan’s Pressing On – very timely, given the release of his latest Bootleg Series, Trouble No More. Why did you choose this song?
Mandy: Music has been for me always a place, a physical space to go to. When I go there I feel surrounded, understood and protected. I feel like I have the freedom to express whatever emotion is going on for me and there is no judgment. So, Pressing On for me is a song that I could sing in that space that gives me strength to keep moving forward through difficult circumstances to a higher calling and bigger reason. If I can press on then maybe someone else could be encouraged and feel like “She’s doing it, I can do it too.”
DATC: And you’ve a Blind Willie Johnson song and a Mississippi Fred McDowell song on the album too. Do you relate to these old blues masters?
Mandy: Even though these masters are of a different gender, race and generation I find them very relatable. I think it’s the music that helps create bridges across these differences. They are singing about their struggles. They are down to earth and unpretentious. They are singing to keep their faith alive and share their experiences, because there is healing and connection in expressing. And so yeah, I can relate to them.
DATC: Why do you think there is an enduring quality to the blues?
Mandy: Well the blues is the basis for almost all of American music over the past 100 years because it is relatable. It’s an expression of calling out from suffering. I think a lot of times people don’t give each other or themselves permission to express, so in the blues gives a place for this. I think another enduring quality is that the blues is profound in its simplicity.
DATC: And what about gospel blues – why do you think people still want to listen to Blind Willie Johnson and Rev Robert Wilkins and Rev Gary Davis and others like them, even though they are quite forthright with their gospel lyrics?
Mandy: Well, I think whether they believe intellectually or not with the words, that listeners resonate with the truth of the experience that is coming through their expression. That truth expressed is bringing the listener some kind of satisfaction and making a connection.
DATC: When you say that you “desire to sing the truth,” what do you mean by that?
Mandy: I desire to sing the truth on many levels. I want to sing what is true to my experience. I enjoy singing for fun, but I don’t feel like I’m really singing if I’m not expressing the truth of what is going on inside of me. That could be the truth of my faith in my Saviour and it could be the truth of a really painful relationship I could be going through or the joy of just having a great time and letting go of troubles. You know, being authentic. I desire to be and give something authentic and to sing the truth or I feel like I’m not really giving anything of substance.
DATC: You’ve said, that “touching joy and pain through music brings a sweet freedom and healing.” Can you say a bit more about that?
Mandy: I’ve heard that in the West African Mandekan language there is a term, yere-wolo, that means, “to give birth to oneself.” I feel that this album has been the starting point of that for me. That I am coming back full circle.
I have been reborn for many years as a Christian, but this rebirth is taking place inside that context. I feel like for many years I did not have something to express and then it was like all at once I knew it was time. It has been an awakening for me and the vehicle for that is music. I feel like I am going back to my beginning and collecting all the experiences and giving birth to myself in this way.
Touching that joy and pain, as difficult as it is sometimes, keeps me alive and constantly discovering myself. Through discovering myself, I feel like I am able to Move on Up through my circumstances and hopefully encourage other to do the same.
You know I know how it feels to be held down and feel like there is no way. I know what it feels like to not have a voice so I want others to know that they are not alone in feeling like that as well. I want to share that through faith and relationship with God that he gives us the strength to “Press on” and “Move on Up.” I mean to say that I haven’t “arrived” anywhere. As much as I want to support and encourage others, I need the support, encouragement and relationship with others to keep pressing on and moving up.
Thank you for having me and for your support. I wish you the best with your work. I look forward to hearing updates from “Down at the Crossroads” in 2018!
DATC: Thank you Mandy!