How Paul and April Brown Create Music to Heal Effects of Cancer
Paul Brown, the Grammy Award-nominated Memphis/Nashville producer and keyboardist, describes his new album with his wife as an artists’ journey together through the cancer landscape, with songs intended to create peace, joy and hope. But at its heart, Elders and Ancestors is really a love story.
Paul and April Brown call themselves Agrelia’s Castle when they collaborate musically. They released a track in 2012, “Spirit Dreaming,” and have been working on a full-length album ever since. That is, of course, as time and schedules have allowed. Paul’s had a bit of whirlwind year, jetting to the Grammys in 2014 for producing a nominee in the Best Blues Album category -- Down in Louisiana by Bobby Rush, recorded at Brown’s Ocean Soul Studios in Nashville. He toured nationally playing keyboards for his close friend and soul brother, Mike Farris, the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies founder whose Shine for All the People won the 2015 Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album. And he’s currently touring the world as keyboardist with the Waterboys, who performed "The Girl Who Slept For Scotland" on “The Late Show with David Letterman” during the show’s final month.
But of all the musical accomplishments, professional success, and rock star-like moments rubbing shoulders with celebrities, Brown finds the new age album he recorded with his wife to be his most meaningful and rewarding achievement. “Our story started in June of 2003, when Paul and I met in Memphis on Beale Street,” April says. “He was playing with a band called FreeWorld. Awesome band. Not two months later, on July 29, 2003, I found out I had breast cancer. So, our story has always been entwined with my cancer journey.”
Elders and Ancestors is set for a Sept. 1 release by Mysterium Music, an indie New Age label dedicated to musical works for “healing, relaxation, rejuvenation of the mind, body, spirit, and soul.”
“Through this label," Paul explains, "our goal is to get this music into the hands of chemotherapy and radiation facilities, hospice centers, caregivers, and therapists to use as a calming tool … for those battling cancer, Alzheimer's or any other serious illness.”
The music on Elders and Ancestors is indeed calming. At times, the passages are reminiscent of instrumental interludes from Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd (“Adrift”). “Spirit Dreaming” features April's Native American style flute playing and “Sonnet” showcases her soothing vocals. A painting of hers is the artwork on the album cover.
“Breathe” features Memphis sitar Master Richard Cushing with Nashville guitar and cello Master Tom Shinness, and it recalls George Harrison’s Indian-influenced work, both with the Beatles and as a solo artist. Brown’s excellent keyboard work on Fender Rhodes and the Hammond B3 are featured throughout. Mike Farris delivers an impassioned guest vocal on “Wayfaring Stranger.”
With such influential musical friends lending their soulful talents to the collaboration, the results are powerful, though in this context the star power is understated. Elders and Ancestors is intended to provide solace to the listener, though it’s also the beautiful result of a husband-and-wife collaboration.
“It is surely a journey unlike any other we've ever taken together,” Paul says.
In 2009, six years after initial treatments began for her cancer, April was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread throughout her skeletal system. “After a major surgery followed by more radiation therapy," she says, "I began trying to figure out how to live with an incurable disease and the promise of a much shortened life expectancy.”
April’s life became filled with constant sources of stress: frequent doctor visits, medications, side-effects from medications, medical bills, chronic pain, mobility issues, and an uncertain future. The only thing she knew for certain was that the median survival time for metastatic breast cancer was about three years.
These days, April continues to defy odds and outrun the painful cancer. “I feel like God — or the universe, or whatever appellation you might give to what I have come to understand as the collective consciousness of everything — brought Paul into my life just when I was going to need him the most,” she says. The couple has been married 10 years.
With Elders and Ancestors, Paul and April Brown have created a beautiful, lasting legacy of their love as well as a work others are sure to find calming and inspiring. “The songs on this CD are very meaningful to me,” April says. “It is my hope that other people — people living with chronic illness or those in caregiver positions — will experience the same soothing, uplifting feelings when they listen to our music. I believe music can be another tool in the toolbox for anyone trying to manage stress.”
As for live shows, Paul says they performed together once as Agrelia’s Castle for the Nashville chapter of the cancer support group Gilda's Club, named after the late Saturday Night Live actress Gilda Radner. The couple plans to record more music together and possibly perform. “I’m really hoping April feels well enough to start doing some really special shows [to] benefit causes that help manage and strive to cure cancer,” Paul says.