WHEN GOSPEL singers perform in concert, they often stop singing in the middle of a hymn to preach to their audience while the band keeps playing. Testifying about God in forceful, rhythmic cadences, these gospel singers sound very much like rappers.
The Winans have never been shy about preaching at their concerts and on their new album, "Return," they make the connection between preaching and rapping explicit with three numbers produced by Teddy Riley, the mastermind behind Bobby Brown's swing-jack sound. The result is just one more chapter in the Winans' ongoing attempt to make gospel music sound as contemporary as anything on the radio.
The Winans' previous studio album featured duets with Anita Baker and Michael McDonald, and this new album showcases collaborations with Riley, Stevie Wonder, Kenny G and Baker's producer, Michael J. Powell. The result is not cutting-edge innovation by any means but rather solid, mainstream black-pop with religious and inspirational lyrics. The album's first single is the Riley-produced "It's Time," and the combination of shouted Old Testament warnings and robust Motown harmonies recalls the 1969 Temptations hits, "Cloud Nine" and "Runaway Child."
The follow-up single could well be the Powell-produced "Everyday the Same," a description of heaven that features Wonder's guest vocal and harmonica solo plus a heavenly pop melody in the Wonder mode. The Winans divide the rest of the album between hip-hop hymns and seductive pop preaching, and the Detroit quartet sounds more than ever like the gospel counterpart to classic Motown acts like Wonder and the Temps.