There’s always something of interesting going on with a CeCe Winans record. Her voice remains incredibly evocative and effortless, very different from most of her black gospel successors. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the best gospel singer of the last, well, let’s say since Aretha. On this album, she goes for a very interesting retro aesthetic on the first half, which is the strongest part of the album. The retro aesthetic goes beyond the warm, familiar cover art. The music here is obviously going for a kind of Motown, Phil Spector tone and it nails it really well. When Winans layers her vocals, she sounds for all the world like a sixties era girl group. On the stomping Hey Devil, maybe the best track on the record, the Clark Sisters guest above a bopping drum beat and a deadly organ riff. Peace from God is a beautiful lament in a slower, but still retro style. Run to Him is obviously a girl group take-off; you can tell from the title which is worked into the song in a really perfect way. The album kind of splits down the middle and the last half is more traditional contemporary gospel and it’s not as interesting or as compelling. Though there are still really beautiful songs here. Lowly is a fantastic gospel choir rave dedicated to, of all things, humility. And the Grammy winning Never Have to Be Alone is Winans’ voice at its very best, clear, smooth, with the kind of simple phrasing that elevates her above her so-called peers. Most of the tracks, even those that aren’t superlative, are still pretty good. There’s only a couple of weak tracks. The weakest is a rather ill-conceived cover of Kristofferson’s country prayer, Why Me? It’s an interesting choice, but sometimes those are also poor choices and in this case I think it is. Winans doesn’t really mesh with the style, even though they give it some soul flourishes. But on the whole, this album is really strong. It’s not going to join the ranks of her classics; Alabaster Box & Everlasting Love are both pretty perfect and this one simply isn’t. I’d love to hear her do a whole album in the retro style she experiments, and succeeds, with here, but probably the material here will scratch that itch for her and we won’t get it. But it’s still good to get this album; it’s been a really shocking nine years since her last record and it’s good to know that she still hasn’t really lost a step. Some of the material may be a little weaker than I wanted it to be, but that voice and that sweet, sweet spirit is still the same. 3 stars.
tl;dr – retro aesthetic evokes the sixties and elevates this album above the typical gospel fare; some of the material isn’t as good as we’re used to, but Winans’ voice and style remain untouched. 3 stars.