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Gospel Goes Back To Basics With '1 Mic 1 Take'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's hear some music now. And when you think about gospel music these days, you might be thinking big - big voices, big tunes, big choirs. A new project from Motown Gospel just released this weekend strips the genre back to the basics, focusing on the vocals and the message. The ten-track album is called "1 Mic 1 Take." It features five gospel singers who perform two songs each, all recorded live.

One of those appearing on the album is Brian Courtney Wilson, who's with us now from WBEZ in Chicago. Brian Courtney Wilson, thank you so much for joining us.

BRIAN COURTNEY WILSON: Thank you for having me, Michel. It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: What was it about this project that appealed to you?

WILSON: You know, the opportunity to be a part of Capitol Studios and what they're doing there, what they've done historically there was big. And to kind of strip it down to where it started, which was, you know, just me in my home studio with a piano, that was important to me.

MARTIN: You just mentioned just now that it was all recorded in Hollywood at the landmark Capitol Studios. For people who aren't aware, could you tell us what's so special about that place?

WILSON: It's iconic. I mean, you've seen it in movies on several occasions, that big Capitol Studio sign there. And it's just - it's a huge tower of music in a place that's a capital for entertainment, period. And this is the first time they've ever done gospel music in this way in that building. And so that was a special historic opportunity.

MARTIN: So let's listen to one of your two cuts on this album, "Worth Fighting For." It's the first song on the record. Let's play a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORTH FIGHTING FOR")

WILSON: (Singing) Now I'm moving by faith and not by sight, toward victory, by the power of your might. You're straightening out my path and opening every door. I am your child, and I'm worth fighting for. Eyes haven't seen...

MARTIN: So let me play the version from your 2015 album. I'll just play a little bit of that so people can hear the difference. Here it is.

WILSON: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORTH FIGHTING FOR")

WILSON: (Singing) Eyes haven't seen, ears haven't heard there is so much more...

MARTIN: Pretty big difference there...

WILSON: Yeah, it's different.

MARTIN: ...Right?

WILSON: It's different.

MARTIN: Right?

WILSON: That is big.

(LAUGHTER)

WILSON: That's a contrast.

MARTIN: Yeah, it is. It is.

WILSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: So tell me about that - you know, the idea - again, it kind of speaks to the whole purpose of the album. What is the purpose of kind of stripping away the - all the big production and doing it that way?

WILSON: I think - you know, gospel music distinguishes itself with the message - the message of hope, the message of inspiration that it brings. And so this particular project stripping down some of the big production and just kind of getting to the voice and the message, I think that it gives another layer to what we were trying to communicate with this music. And that is that, you know, we have many things that are worth fighting for. And you fight by continuing to be faithful. And you have enough, even if it's just a little bit to bring that to bear, put that in God's hands and watch him make a miracle call out of it.

MARTIN: The other artists on the album include the Grammy-winner Smokie Norful and Tasha Cobbs, as well as the established artists names people will know - Myron Butler and Levi and the up-and-comer Royce Lovett. Did you all get to see each other during this? Did you all get to...

WILSON: Actually...

MARTIN: ...Be together at all?

WILSON: We were all there at the same time. You know, that's gospel music. It's a community. And so it's encouraging when we are able to get together and appreciate one another's gifts and talents as we go back out and share them with the rest of the world.

MARTIN: Did you think you learned anything from it that you'll take to future projects?

WILSON: You learn/reminded that you're bringing a lot to the table with a voice and a song and a message. You know, you just want to let that lay a foundation for what you're doing. But it starts with that. And if you have that, you got a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MINDFUL")

WILSON: (Singing) I didn't know you...

MARTIN: That was Brian Courtney Wilson, who is featured on the gospel CD "1 Mic 1 Take." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.