Brian McKnight has collaborated with a lot of performers in his career — Justin Timberlake, Rascal Flatts, Willie Nelson, Mariah Carey, Quincy Jones, Celine Dion among them.
“My favorite artist to work with is me!” the R&B artist said in a phone interview. As a singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, McKnight can do it all.
The “Back at One” singer will take the stage at the Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town, in West Virginia, at 7 p.m. Sunday. McKnight’s set will include some of his classics, holiday music and some new music. His current single, “Uh Oh Feeling,” was released in August, and his 13th studio album, “Better,” drops Jan. 29.
McKnight said the set will be fluid. “I always assume that when I do a concert in December, because I have two Christmas albums, that the people will want to hear holiday music. [My band and I] have been playing together so long, we can do pretty much any song on our playlist. Though we will have to dust off the Christmas songs since we only do them one or two times a year.”
The steamy video for “Uh Oh Feeling” was recently released and starts with a scantily clad McKnight in a lot of water — from swimming in an infinity edge pool to a steamy shower.
“I recently got back into shape, and I don’t know how much longer I have to show it off,” the 46-year-old said with a laugh. The concept reprises the shower scenes in the video “Anytime,” about 20 years ago, he said.
The song was inspired by his 16-year-old daughter, who is now catching the eye of young men. When that happens, he said, “she’s like ‘uh oh!’ I wanted to turn that around make it about a good thing.”
“Better” is a fitting title for the album, McKnight said. Lots of things are better in his life now, including his songwriting. With this album, he wanted to “take a retro move forward, if that makes sense. I had to take a look back at how music was and how it is now. There is very little computer-generated music on this album.” And as on all his albums, he wrote all the songs. Though he can play nine instruments, McKnight only played one, keyboard, on one song on the album.
“We spent two days in the studio and cut 12 songs,” McKnight said. “It was like the old days. It was nice recording with all the guys like it was 20 years ago. It was artist driven. Now [music] is so producer driven. It’s a guy with a console that generates the sound.”
McKnight said musical artists “need to step up and go back to making music.”
The producer-driven music has driven McKnight to semi-retire from record producing. “I understand it’s a young person’s game as far as the sound goes. I know how to play, I know how to produce, I know how to score films” — but he doesn’t want to know “how it works” now and jeopardize the Brian McKnight sound.
Neither do his fans.
– – –
McKnight was a contestant on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2009. He was “fired” by Trump in the board room. So I asked him what he thinks of presidential candidate Donald Trump:
“I don’t know if he’s the right candidate but someone like him is the right direction,” McKnight said. “For 200 years we’ve been electing lawyers and politicians to run the country. If you look at the objectives of Americans — how much money can I keep in my pocket and let’s get this country back in the black — I think it’s a step in the right direction. A very rich man would be difficult to sway with money or power.”
– – –
On country music: “You have real great songwriters and singers, that’s why it hasn’t declined as other genres have.”
– – –
McKnight 360 Foundation: McKnight said the foundation, which launched in 2012, is getting a new focus in 2016. It originated as a program to provide solutions for the lack of funding for musical programs in schools across the country.
“We’re changing it to an IT platform,” he said. That’s where the greatest job growth is predicted to be. “If (students) knew that, that could be where they focus.” Students in the Silicon Valley know that; inner city kids need to know that, too, he said.
McKnight was a computer science and mathematics major in college. “I wanted to program video games. That was a growing area at the end of the ’80s but nobody knew how much. We knew it was burgeoning.” Several of his college friends are designing video games.