SOUL TRACKS: CeCe Winans - Let Them Fall in Love (2017)

Let Them Fall In Love, the newest recording by CeCe Winans, is a big album at a time when it seems that producers and record executives seem eager to shrink music – and especially music made by black artists – down to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. Most of the complaints listeners have about genres geared toward the “urban demographic” is that so much of the music seems so small – small thematically, small artistically, small creatively. Values aspiring to make hits rather than aspiring to strive for greatness may be the root of this smallness – and the listeners have noticed.

Let Them Fall in Love has no time for smallness. From beginning to end, Let Them Fall in Love is as big and rangy as the God that all the members of this legendary family have extolled in song for the better part of four decades. Much of this record’s content is centered in the bigger and more bombastic is better ethos of the early to mid-1960s era, when the songwriters and producers who worked in The Brill Building were the epicenter of R&B, rock and pop music. Let Them Fall in Love is the gospel music project that writers and producers such as Carole King, Ellie Greenwich, Burt Bacharach and Phil Spector (who definitely could have used more than a little help from Jesus) would have created if they specialized in gospel.

Winans ensures that her listeners won’t have to wait long to be surrounded by the wall of sound. The first track, “He’s Never Failed Me Yet,” is the perfect example of the kind of tune that Specter would have loved. Winans begins the song accompanied by a piano with her youthful soprano giving the cut an Easter Pageant recital as she recalls her childhood days hearing the “old folks sing he’s never failed me yet.” The only hint that something larger might be coming is the hauntingly angelic harmonizing by the choir. Winans’ vocals build to a mature belt as the instruments – drums, symbols, bass, strings, horns and the harmonies from that choir -- join in a that kind of crescendo that was a Brill Building specialty, gently moving back to Easter Pageant space before ending in a tumult of drum riffs, strings, horns and angelic harmonizing.

The next track has a title – “Run To Him” with its up-tempo Latin tinged percussive arrangement – that recalls the great “Girl Groups” of the early 1960s such as the Sherielles or the Ronettes, right down to the call and response in the backing vocals. The major difference is that Winans is running to Jesus rather than some bad boy hot-rodder. “Hey Devil,” finds Winans channeling the Raelettes to give Satan a raucous slice of shade in a track serves as a reminder that Ray Charles drew his musical inspiration from the church.

“Hey Devil” is not the only track to move outside of The Brill Building while maintaining that 1960s feel. “Why Me” is amusical recognition that Winans is both unworthy and desperately in need of Jesus’ love and protection, and is accented by a country infused bass line and those weepy violins. The power in this track comes from CeCe Winans’ vocals and the tight, Nashville influenced harmonies of the backing choir, while the topical “Lowly” moves us stylistically into the era of early 70s singer/songwriter pop made by legends such as Joni Mitchell. The track serves as a powerful reminder that the high and might have an obligation to step down and humble themselves.

One of the problems with categories and genres is that they easily become barriers to creativity and risk taking. However, gospel music, like all musical genres, is adaptable. The good news of the Gospel can be told in any genre, and that is a musical message that the Winans family has long embraced. That embrace has not always gone over well in the church community, but their spiritual and artistic instincts have resulted in songs that have provided joy and comfort to the churched and unchurched. So the choice between aspiring for greatness and aspiring for hits is a false one: CeCe Winans has and will achieve both with the brilliant Let Them Fall in LoveHighly Recommended