Although soul singer-songwriter Briz is reticent when speaking about herself on the phone, she is not shy at all on stage. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Live, Briz seems to launch herself into her music, with a voice that is melodic and forceful at the same time. She has an expressive face with a big smile, and sports chic stage attire, accessorized with dangly earrings and bangle bracelets.
A recent arrival to Princeton, Briz (whose real name is Brandi Lewis Grove) is a dynamo, personality-plus when performing with her group, The Revival.
Listen to her first recording “Love and Light,” and you might hear pure soul coming through. It’s hard to believe this self-released 2016 EP is Briz’ first time in the recording studio. (Singer-songwriter Walter Anderson, of Kool and the Gang, helped with some of the vocal arrangements on the project.)
All the songs are terrific, but “Anything More” really stands out. On the surface, it’s a sophisticated, joyful, neo-soul love song, but listen a little more closely and you can detect Briz’ faith, her close relationship with spirit.
The energetic ensemble that backs Briz is t\The Revival, consisting of Kevon Lewis on guitar, keyboardist Dominick Wilkins, Kisha Johnson on drums, and bassist Jeff Smith — the music director of the group, who co-produced songs on “Love and Light.”
Just watching them on YouTube or on the group’s Facebook page makes you want to smile. That’s the purpose of Briz’ singing and of the group in general: to connect with the audience emotionally, to get everyone going and feeling glad.
“I believe music is the soul’s language and its power connects us to everyone and everything,” Briz says. “It’s why our name is The Revival. We really aim to make people feel good, to feel alive and connected to each other.”
Briz and the Revival will perform at the Princeton Shopping Center courtyard, 301 North Harrison Street in Princeton, on Thursday, July 26, as part of the 35th annual Summer Courtyard Concert Series, which runs through August 23.
The free concerts are presented by the Arts Council of Princeton in partnership with the Princeton Shopping Center.
The name “Briz” came about when she was in high school in her hometown of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, around the year 2000. The singer Brandy (Norwood) had been very popular at the time, always on the radio throughout the late-1990s.
“I mentioned to a friend that I really liked Brandy, and I was thinking to myself that, ‘I’d like to do that, I think I could sing like her,’” she says. “My friend pointed out, ‘there’s already a Brandy’ in the music business,’ so he nicknamed me ‘Briz’ and it stuck.”
Since this spring Briz and the Revival’s schedule has been full of activity. One of the biggest audiences the band has seen was over the Fourth of July holiday when Briz and friends were part of the Welcome America festivities in Philadelphia, opening for the Philly Pops at Independence Mall.
The band has also played at the Hotel DuPont as well as Kelly’s Logan House in Wilmington, Delaware; Kung Fu Necktie, Sweeney’s, and Warmdaddy’s in Philadelphia; and the South Street (Philadelphia) Spring Festival.
Prior to the Princeton performance, the group will appear Friday, July 20, at the Ladybug Music Festival in Wilmington, which Briz believes is the USA’s largest festival celebrating women in music.
She notes that the concert on July 26 will be only the second time the band has played in Princeton, following Communiversity in 2017.
After the Courtyard Concert, Briz hopes to take a short break and then work on another album, a follow-up to “Love and Light.”
“The last project was recorded at a home studio, but we’re researching to (find) a recording studio, to see what would be a good fit,” says Briz, the group’s designated songwriter. “We’d like to have more of a concert feel for our next album. We’ll see how things pan out.”
For the July 26 show in Princeton Briz says to expect some of her originals but a nice helping of rousing covers as well.
“I love doing covers, and since we’re a new band, there’s a good chance that people don’t know us,” she says, noting that the familiar songs and the group’s singular interpretations have charmed listeners and them more open to the band’s originals.
One such number is Briz’ version of “The Look of Love,” slowed down and simmering, sultrier than anything composer Burt Bacharach ever imagined.
With the more uptempo cover songs, you might hear the influence of the late Sharon Jones, who dazzled with the band the Dap-Kings before her death in November, 2016.
“I love Sharon Jones. She was the most amazing singer, and God rest her soul,” Briz says. “Her singing is nostalgic and fresh at the same time. When she was diagnosed with cancer but kept performing, she was such an inspiration to me.”
Briz quietly mentions that she herself struggled with breast cancer in 2017. In fact, she got her diagnosis the very same day the group was confirmed to perform at last year’s Welcome America festivities. They were to be on the major stage on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, part of an evening of music that culminated in a performance by superstar Mary J. Blige.
She muses that she just put her head down and went forward in a blur of excitement for that show.
It was all shocking to Briz, since the disease doesn’t run in her family and she was a little young for the diagnosis. After surgery and chemotherapy, finally, she is again well enough to put all her energy into the music.
The singer-songwriter grew up in Coatesville, about 45 miles west of Philadelphia. Her father was (and still is) a minister. Her mom was a homemaker who played “old-school neo-soul” ladies of the 1980s such as Anita Baker, Sade, and Teena Marie.
Briz recalls singing all her life and says her family deeply loved music, but no one close was making a living from it.
“There might be family members somewhere who are professional musicians, but I think I am the first one in my (immediate) family to really pursue it,” she says. “I also love to sing whenever I have the opportunity with my church choir.”
That would be the First Baptist Church of Wayne in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where Briz’ husband, Rashad D. Grove, is the senior pastor. The couple has two daughters.
The fertile musical terrain of Philadelphia is where Briz and The Revival’s sound has its roots.
“I really got motivated by people like Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild, etc.,” Briz says. “Those are just a couple of Philly artists who spearheaded the neo-soul genre. I was only about 18 years old, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
“Growing up, I was always writing poetry and songs, but I didn’t think I could have a career singing my own songs,” she says. “I was discouraged because I wasn’t formally trained in music.”
It took a while for Briz, now 36, to stop hiding her light under the proverbial bushel. About five years ago one of her young daughters simply dared her to get out in public and sing.
“She was just a little girl, only about four or five, and she challenged me to be brave,” Briz says. “She’d heard me sing in church and around the house, and she asked me what I was afraid of.”
Soon Briz was putting her “Love and Light” project together, as well as gathering talented friends and rehearsing to take the music on the road.
Incidentally, it was Grove’s career in the ministry that brought the family to Princeton. He is currently at the Princeton Theological Seminary to further his calling and career as a spiritual leader.
“He’s entering his last year at the seminary for his master’s in divinity,” Briz says. “It’s a rigorous program but he’s doing well, and I’m really proud of him. I actually love it in Princeton, and once my husband’s studies are done, we’re thinking about moving here permanently.”
Since moving to Princeton, Briz had been working at Christ Congregation as office manager but left the position when she was diagnosed with cancer and then decided to pursue music full time.
She is also debating about whether to continue at Immaculata University in Malvern, Pennsylvania, where she had been studying secondary education and family and consumer sciences.
Briz says her husband — who is also her manager — was and still is tremendously supportive. She also thinks, in a way, her late mother has been looking out for her too, as her musical career grows.
“Before my mom passed away, even before she was ill, we were talking and it was one of those special moments,” Briz says. “I realize now it was our last conversation. She said, ‘I feel like this (music) is happening for you, and I might not be there physically, but I’ll always be there for you.’ I am sure she’s with me.”
“I’ve always loved music and singing, but performing as myself with a band has really brought me to life, that’s why I call the group ‘The Revival,’” she continues. “That was my hope when we started, that people would feel revived. It’s our joy to perform and it’s important to us to spread joy.”
Briz and the Revival, Summer Courtyard Concert Series, Princeton Shopping Center, 301 North Harrison Street, Princeton. Thursday, July 26, 6 p.m. Free. www.brizonline.com.
Series continues Thursdays: August 2, Amazin’ Grace and the Grace Little Band; August 9, Eco Del Sur; August 16, Octavia Blues Band; August 23, Michael Austin. Concerts are rain or shine, but in the event of rain will be held in the Arts Council’s Pop-Up Space next to Metropolis Spa & Salon. Summer concert attendees can also take advantage of Princeton Shopping Center retailer discounts and sales. 609-924-8777 or www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.