Wayne Brady: “A Long Time Coming”

It’s hard not to think of A Long Time Coming as both a culmination and a  brand new direction of Wayne Brady, TV comedian, singer, and all-around renaissance man. No, it isn’t a comedy album, though that may be the capacity in which most people know Brady, based on his work on the improv comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway? as well as his own TV talk show and, most recently, the gameshow Don’t Forget the Lyrics. No, Brady’s debut as a straight-up musician is no laughing matter-indeed, it’s a very serious, heartfelt affair– but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without precedent in Brady’s career. He showed off his formidable vocal chops many a time on Whose Line, devising devilishly clever song parodies in a variety of styles and proving that he could croon smoothly and belt it out with the best of them.

And in one sense, the album doesn’t show off his musical skills nearly as well as Whose Line did, if only because it lacks the feverish variety and spontaneity of that show. Brady’s work is very much in a solitary key here– namely, smooth, hot-buttered R&B and soulful balladeering, equal parts Babyface, Luther Vandross, and Al Green. It’s music that’s all about steady, slow to mid-tempo grooves, gentle crooning, careful polish and unabashedly romantic lyrics. It’s music for slow-dancing, for romancing, a soundtrack to a cozy dinner for two. It’s decidedly adult-oriented, and, in many ways, it’s very unassuming. The boldest thing Brady does here is cover the revered Sam Cooke tune “A Change is Gonna Come,” and his reading of it is marked by a deep reverence for the source material as well as a giddiness at the opportunity to sing it-which is actually indicative of the album as a whole. Brady is clearly comfortable in his own skin, and has a blast making this music, but he’s not yet comfortable enough to throw any curveballs or mess with a familiar formula, which means that the music is elegant and tasteful but never particularly inspired or exciting.

But that doesn’t make it a bad album, of course; actually, Brady excels here, both in terms of his singing and his persona. He’s clearly a very talented guy, and his gig as a gameshow host seems beneath his abilities; A Long Time Coming is aptly named, as it’s a big step toward the kind of projects that are truly fitting for a man of Brady’s talents. And even if it isn’t a particularly bold or surprising work, it is certainly a very professional one, immaculately produced and performed with warmth and good cheer, which makes it go down smooth– exactly as this kind of music should.

And really, the smoothness of it all is what makes it a pleasurable album. Brady steps up here to become one of the last few all-around entertainers in show business, a man who can act silly and crack jokes one day and show his serious side the next. And the album is certainly serious, but never dour or stuffy; it benefits greatly from Brady’s natural charisma and his clean, good-natured personality. Brady has a reputation for being a family-friendly entertainer, and indeed, the only time he even comes close to sleazing it up is on a track called “F.W.B. [Friends With Benefits],” which isn’t any more explicit than its title. But just because he doesn’t sex it up doesn’t mean it isn’t sexy, as Brady proves to be a true romantic, celebrating an average, normal romance (“Ordinary”), telling his baby she’s the sweetest berry on the vine (“Sweetest Berry”), affirming natural beauty (“All Naturally”), and waxing nostalgic about days gone by (“Back in the Day”). So while he’s never exactly erotic, he’s always charming and romantic, both on urban slow jams like “F.W.B.” and show-stopping ballads like “Make Heaven Wait.”

And ultimately, the fact that Brady’s clean-cut persona and genuineness are so winsome is triumph enough. Sure, the album is essentially easy listening, and won’t win any points for originality– except, perhaps, in its slow-jam cover of The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”-but it’s still likely to charm the grown-up audiences for whom it’s clearly geared. One hopes, of course, that Brady returns to recording many times in the future, trying on different styles and taking his music in new directions, but, as a first step, this is a very sturdy, pleasing record, the work of a capable entertainer who’s finally found a project worthy of his name.

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