How We React and How We Recover, the new album from three time Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown. His first solo recording in over a decade is a politically-charged, far-reaching rumination on love, family and music.
How We React and How We Recover – partly a response to our fraught political climate, part portrait of an evolving contemporary artist– is Brown’s definitive interpretation of his own compositions, pregnant with emotion, capacious musical energy and symphonic sweep. “I grew up on Billy Joel and Joni Mitchell, but also Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein,” reflects Brown. “All those influences sit within the work. This album has a specific emotional palette and musical aesthetic that rests between rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, folk, gospel and Broadway.”
The opening song, “Hope,” written the morning after the fateful 2016 U.S. Presidential election, was meant to set the tone for the record. “It’s about having hope when you have no reason to be hopeful, trying to capture the positive energy of life in bad times. I still have a tough time performing it, it’s a very direct expression of a very difficult emotional moment.” Ultimately the album is about, as the song “Hope” itself says, being a force of good “in spite of everything ridiculous and sad.”
“The Sandy Hook school shooting just broke me,” Brown continues. “My daughter was the same age as those kids and it mobilized me to do something, anything I could about the scourge of guns in this country. Ultimately, I wrote ‘A Song About Your Gun.’ I had to express my anger, not just for the killing of the innocent people, but the fetishization of this weapon. This object has been placed on a pedestal to become a symbol of who we are supposed to be as a country. I started writing this song to deal with that rage and now it’s become my primary social issue.”
“All Things in Time” – the song which provides the album its title – closes many of Brown’s concerts. With a quiet and clear-eyed optimism, the song says, “we can’t predict what comes to pass, all we control is how we react and how we recover.” “That line really encapsulates both the album and what it’s like to live in this crazy time,” Brown explains. “Let’s just hang in there together. It doesn’t matter if I really believe it, what matters is that I must believe it.”
Other album highlights include “Fifty Years Long,” Jason’s lyrical song originally written for a long-married couple he didn’t know, but which ended up exploring not only his own marriage, but that of his parents and the very nature of relationships, and how they are affected by community, luck and hard work. “Melinda,” infused with the chaos and energy of big band Latin rhythm, is about a rising salsa musician set in the melting pot of 1970s New York City.
“Hallowed Ground” – an infectiously percussive chamber pop song – was inspired by his daughter’s visit to the same performing arts camp Brown attended in his formative years, and the emotions from witnessing her budding musical talent. “Being a father is the thing I had to do to keep being a writer,” he reflects. “There were things I didn’t know how to feel, emotions I never knew existed, or how to express them. I’ve already said all there was to say about myself. It’s very different when you are responsible for other people and every facet of their lives.”
The Grammy Award-nominated vocalist Kate McGarry lends her voice to the bittersweet bossa nova-inspired “One More Thing Than I Can Handle.” Brown recalled, “I was dazzled by her technical facility and unbelievable musicality, but she really connects with the lyrics too. I am honored that she’s part of the album. She’s a special artist.”
“Wait ‘Till You See What’s Next” – the album’s ebullient closing track – was originally written as the finale of the Broadway musical Prince of Broadway, which honors Brown’s mentor, the lauded director Hal Prince. Brown provided arrangements, orchestrations, music supervision, and co-produced the cast album for Ghostlight Records. “As an optimist, Hal genuinely believes good things are going to happen,” says Brown. “His entire life and career are based on not the assumption, but the literal knowledge, that it’s all going to work out exactly the way you want it to. He’s always moving forward with positivity and belief in the future. This song was written to be in Hal’s voice, but by singing it on the album, I started to find that quality in myself. The world is rough right now, but wait until you see what’s next. Let’s celebrate what’s coming up.”
How We React and How We Recover is produced by Jason Robert Brown and Jeffery Lesser. Stacey Mindich and Kurt Deutsch serve as executive producers.
Brown also is represented on Ghostlight Records with his debut solo album – Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes – in addition to The Last Five Years (2002 Original Off-Broadway cast album, 2013 Revival Off-Broadway cast album, and 2015 Motion Picture Soundtrack), and the Original Broadway Cast Albums of 13 and The Bridges of Madison County.