"DON'T GET God Started," the newest wave in the recent tide of gospel musicals, rolls into the Warner this week, decorated with music by the Grammy-winning Winans clan, and starring new-style gospel sensations BeBe Winans and Vanessa Bell Armstrong, both of whom have new records out.
BeBe and CeCe Winans have the kind of matched voices and almost telepathic vocal rapport that only comes from growing up singing together. But these two are not the Donny and Marie of gospel -- their self-titled debut duet is a smooth mix of pop gospel and secular soul, and the spirit surges through both.
There's radio-ready studio gloss on superior soul songs like "I.O.U. Me" and slow-burning gospel ballads like "He's Coming Soon." Brother BeBe's plush voice compares favorably with Jeffrey Osborne's and James Ingram's. Sister CeCe's creamy tones curve around his, and both of them show more singing skill and restraint than many more famous. Highlights include Bebe's "Love Said Not So" (with the rest of the Winans performing as a choir) and "Change Your Nature," both a gentle warning and a dance temptation.
Vanessa Bell Armstrong's "Following Jesus" is all gospel, but it glitters with similarly updated pop-soul embellishments -- the opening bars of "Real Soon" sound like the return of the Doobie Brothers until Armstrong's voice sears through. Producers Walter Hawkins and Thomas A. Whitfield don't mix Armstrong way up front -- but then, they don't need to. On songs like the foot-stomping, hand-clapping "Following Jesus," Armstrong's volcanic voice boils up through the electronic textures and massed choirs, and races up five flights of stairs on "He's Real."
BEBE & CECE WINANS -- "BeBe & CeCe Winans" (Capitol 12573).
VANESSA BELL ARMSTRONG -- "Following Jesus" (Muscle Shoals Sound MSSG 8001). BeBe Winans and Vanessa Bell Armstrong appear in "Don't Get God Started" at the Warner through August 2.