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The Reverend Shawn Amos on his latest album 'Soul Brother No. 1'


Soul Brother No. 1 was a nickname given to James Brown, the Godfather of Soul.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) Listen up. We interrupt for breaking news.

KURTZLEBEN: "Soul Brother No. 1" is also the name of a new album from The Reverend Shawn Amos, and it captures some of that James Brown spirit, especially in the title track.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) Stone cold. Choke hold. You know who I am. I'm your Soul Brother No. 1, Soul Brother No. 1, Soul Brother No. 1.

KURTZLEBEN: You can't see it, but I'm dancing right now. The new Soul Brother is here to talk to us about that album. Reverend Shawn Amos, welcome to the program.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: Thanks for having me.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, it is a nervy move - to put it lightly - comparing yourself to James Brown like that. What was the thinking?

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: It wasn't the intention, to be honest with you. I don't think anyone could ever compare to James Brown. There's only one. It was really my desire to reclaim some of my identity, and it was an invitation to others to reclaim their own. I think we all can be our own personal Soul Brother No. 1 or Soul Sister No. 1.

KURTZLEBEN: On this album, your music spans so many genres. There's funk and soul, but there's also rock and some slow blues and gospel. Is there any one of those genres where you feel the most comfortable?

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: You know, I've been a blue singer for, God, you know, over the last decade. And so that's home for me, for sure. And one of the concerns I had coming into it was that - can I transition from being a pretty good blue singer to being, you know, a pretty good soul singer? That was a stretch for me, but in the best way. I tell everyone it's an album built on the blues foundation, but there's this funk, soul house built on top of it.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) I'm going back.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, speaking of the many genres on this album, let's hear a clip from Back To The Beginning, which features the gospel-singing McCrary Sisters.


MCRARY SISTERS: (Singing) Time is all that we have. Time is all that we have.

KURTZLEBEN: You have several collaborators on this album besides them. How do you decide who to collaborate with?

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: Part of it is a wish list, like, who have I always wanted to be in the studio with? And I'm always amazed that people just want to work. Every time I make a call to someone, I'm a little afraid and think, that they would never want to work with me. Steve Ferrone who was Tom Petty's drummer -and the Heartbreakers - for the last 20 years, he plays drums on the album. I was completely just mortified to call him. And he's like, yeah, I'm in.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: And I just have this dream list of people I think will get it. Who would I want to hear? Who's going to be fun to collaborate with and take it to another level? And the recordings last forever. And so when you're making something that's gonna be around longer than you are, you just want to make sure you've given it your best shot.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) Now I've had my revelation. Seven-headed beast inside. Now I've had my revelation.

KURTZLEBEN: I want to get to your name. You're not just Shawn Amos. You're The Reverend Shawn Amos. Do you preach when you're not singing?

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: The is the most important part of that.

KURTZLEBEN: Of course.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: The article is the most important.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: When people bill me as Reverend Shawn Amos, I'm like, no - the.

KURTZLEBEN: Definite article. Come on.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I am a reverend through the magic of the internet in Universal Life Church.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: I preach from the stage. It's funny. I was given that title. I played my first blue shows in Italy, close to 13 years ago now. And after the gigs, the audience was chanting, il reverendo, il reverendo. And I turned to my friend who invited me there to play. I was like, what are they saying? They said, they're calling you the reverend - calling you reverend. So I figured if a bunch of Italian Catholics can bestow me with the title of reverend, then I should keep it.

KURTZLEBEN: You never let go of that kind of nickname. No.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: I came back, and I've never let it go.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) Last night past the curfew by the monument. Made the news. Said it's all about money. What it is is a debt gone too long unpaid. What it is to be Black. What it is to be always amazed at the lack.

KURTZLEBEN: One thread you bring into your songs on this album is race. You have a song called "What It Is To Be Black," which is pretty introspective soul song. And then you have a funkier, I think, more aggressive one called "Don't Call Me N-word, Whitey." And I'm curious, how do those songs fit together in your mind?

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: So, the "Don't Call Me N-word, Whitey" is a Sly Stone cover - Sly and the Family Stone cover - that I used to play live years ago. I actually do it as a sing-along.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: I'd say, don't call me - uh - whitey, and whole audience would sing whitey without any problem at all. And I'd flip that no one would sing the other one. I think that song is - it's one of the most succinct and clear examples or calls for empathy on both sides. I mean, we all just want to be seen.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) That we all will be free when we take freedom seriously.

And then "What It Is To Be Black, " they're sister songs in a way. I've gone through such an evolution of defining my own Blackness and my own identity, and I am in the middle of a journey that I think is hopefully metaphorical for anyone who's going through any kind of journey to figure who the heck they are.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) What it is to be Black. What it is to be Black. Yeah, we all will be free. Yeah, we all will be free.

KURTZLEBEN: You've talked about figuring out the evolution of your Blackness. You've also talked about finding your identity. Tell me more about that. What did that look like when you were recording this record?

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: It actually started before I recorded the record. I wrote a semi-autobiographical young adult book called "Cookies & Milk". And it was the first chance I really thought about growing up in the '70s, growing up in Hollywood, growing up in a world where I was the only Black kid around in an age that predates the internet. So it was very difficult to find clues to who I was. And so coming out of that book, I was just stuck in that headspace. One, I was stuck in the music of the '70s, which I sort of had rediscovered through writing the book. And I was also realizing how much I'd been cut off from a lot of my own history and identity, and I wanted to explore that more. And so the album is me sort of continuing that journey.


KURTZLEBEN: This is such a warm and optimistic record in a lot of ways.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: Aw, thanks. Thank you.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, yeah, I mean, it ends with a track called "Things Will Be Fine." Is that just how you generally feel about the world?

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: Well, that lyric is things will be fine, ellipses, if we let it.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: And that's the whole vibe of the album. It's this idea of being prideful, being optimistic, but not without accountability and not without responsibility. And I think things will be fine if we make some choices to do that.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) Things will be fine if we just let it.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) Now I'm thinking what them fools do. They say, we don't have the words quite yet, but we're gonna think of something soon.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: We all have this choice between love and fear, and we've been choosing fear a lot lately, and I would love us to choose love, and I think that we need more reminders of the power of that. And this is my small offering.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) Things will be fine if we just let it.

KURTZLEBEN: That was the The Reverend Shawn Amos talking to us about his record, "Soul Brother No. 1." Shawn, thank you so much.

THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: Aw, thanks so much, Danielle. Be well.


THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS: (Singing) Things will be fine. Things will be fine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.