Over the past decade the Winans family has become a gospel music dynasty, appealing to three generations of listeners who embrace everything from traditional spirituals to rap evangelism. But with success has come controversy. Two years ago sisters Angie and Debbie Winans outraged the gay community by recording "Not Natural," a song that denounced the depiction of homosexuality on prime-time TV.
If older sister CeCe Winans shares the same view, there's no sign of it on her new album, "Alabaster Box" (Wellspring Gospel). The Grammy-winning vocalist best known for the gospel and R&B hits she's recorded with sibling BeBe Winans has devoted the entire album to songs of praise, devotion and deliverance. While the arrangements frequently draw from contemporary pop and R&B sources, the lyrics concern fundamentals of faith as old as the Bible itself. The mood is inclusive, not divisive.
The album opens with "Fill My Cup," a traditional refrain that Winans first sang as an adolescent in her church choir. The simple plea is charged with heartfelt emotion before Winans turns her attention to a collection of new songs that boast radio-friendly arrangements. Among the best is "One and the Same," which she recorded with the marvelously inventive vocal ensemble Take 6. The group wraps Winans's supple voice in a weave of imaginatively arranged harmonies. Other standout performances include "King of Kings (He's a Wonder)" and "Higher Place of Praise," songs that demonstrate the ease with which Winans balances soul grooves and gospel spirit.
Unfortunately, the song quality falls off sharply at times. On the cringe-inducing "It Wasn't Easy," for example, Winans casts herself as Jesus Christ, who reflects on His fate thus: "They put the nails through my hands/ Pierced my side, please understand/ It wasn't easy but it was worth it."
CeCe Winans and guests Lamar Campbell & Spirit of Praise perform Tuesday night at the National Church of God in Washington.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8161.)
Winans Phase 2
Being part of a famous musical family clearly has its advantages. Winans Phase 2, a third-generation Winans ensemble, recently recorded its debut album, "We Got Next" (Myrrh), with the help of Babyface and Whitney Houston producer Rodney Jerkins.
The quartet--composed of teenagers Marvin Jr., Michael Jr., Carvin III and Juan--kicks things off by tracing their family lineage on the clever and amusing "I'm a Winans Too." Once this brief rap history lesson is out of the way, the group goes on to mix hip-hop beats with classic harmonies that derive from Motown and Philly soul traditions. Babyface's contribution, "Just for a Day," not only produces the album's finest example of the quartet's harmonic finesse, it also provides a sharp contrast to "Who Do You Love?" and other rhythmically percussive tracks inspired by hip-hop culture.
For now, at least, the quartet seems a bit too eager to show off its vocal tricks and its range of influences; an overwrought version of the Bee Gees' "Too Much Heaven" is the album's most conspicuous example of production overkill. Miscues aside, though, most of the music on "We Got Next" proves the latest Winans enterprise is full of talent, energy and promise.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8162.)
Mom and Pop Winans also have new, faith-affirming albums--their first solo recordings. Not surprisingly, the family elders, who married in 1953, are drawn to more conventional forms of gospel expression than their children and grandchildren.
"An Affair to Remember" (Against the Flow) features Mom Winans performing hymns and ballads with the London Symphony Orchestra. It's very much a family affair--daughter Angie co-wrote the title track, and both she and brother Marvin helped arrange the background vocals. Even so, Mom Winans could carry the album on the strength of her spirit alone. "It's my task to teach the younger," she declares at one point, confident that her remarkable life will inspire others. "Learn from me because I'm older/ This gray hair means I'm wiser."
By gospel standards, Winans isn't a commanding vocalist; her contralto is more comforting than compelling. Still, her voice is well served here by songs that offer listeners plenty of hope and advice. The new tunes, particularly Becky Fender's "Give Me Jesus" and Dannibelle Hall's "Ordinary People," complement the vintage songs and a surprisingly soulful, un-campfire-like arrangement of "Kum Ba Yah."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8163.)
"All aboard, this train is bound for glory," declares Pop Winans on "Uncensored" (Against the Flow). It's an invitation worth heeding. While his spouse opts for a lushly orchestrated sound, Pop Winans favors pew-rocking gospel quartet music. His raspy baritone is always expressive and easily recognizable, as it rises above the harmonies created by his extended family.
Winans punctuates "This Train" with declamatory shouts, renders a rousing version of the biblical tale "God Rode on a Windstorm," and powerfully anchors old-fashioned gospel harmonic schemes on "Sometimes," "Walk Out in My Jesus Name" and other tracks. On "Right Here Waiting," a world-weary plea composed by his son BeBe, the combination of Winans's gritty tone and emotionally yearning delivery quickly reveals the ties that bind gospel music and blues.
And lest anyone miss the message behind his music, Winans also includes several brief spoken-word commentaries on his spiritual ministry. "To serve Him," he concludes, "that's my purpose in life, in spirit and in truth."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8164.)