CeCe Winans is a daughter of Detroit and a disciple of gospel and R&B. She’s won exactly ten Grammys. (I wonder what an interior designer would suggest go in the presence of a gold-plated record player.) She even sang with Whitney Houston. CeCe reigns as the best-selling female gospel artist ever, but the luxuries of her status haven’t slowed her down one bit. She has a new album out called Let Them Fall in Love. From start to finish, it can take you where you need to go. (Up!)
The retrospective lyrics of “He’s Never Failed Me Yet” are delivered in a voice so clear and ravishingly resonant, I strongly suspect CeCe is ringing in my tympanic canals. The pairing of her voice with demure piano creates a vignette similar to the scenes in movies where a character pulls out some antiquated contraption in order to reminisce over home movies. And that’s just in the verses. The chorus is much louder; the difference in tone is like the difference between a sunroof and a convertible. It’s big and brass and shiny and grandiose, and it will mess up your hair. The track is utterly divine.
The percussion at the beginning of “Run to Him” has a sexy swanky mangrove vibe, bright greens and yellows, blasted onto an alligator-free path of righteousness with keys and personable lyrics. CeCe’s clear siren song lays out the order of events, from disillusionment to increased awareness of something greater than the whole, to the race (not in a rush rush kind of way, but rather an I’m on my way but let me make a pit stop first. Group vocals suggest at the thing that unites us all as we give it the old college try.
Like a bat out of hell, trumpets blast out the opening of “Hey Devil!,” rousing the listener and inciting their bones to dance. With boogie-woogie piano and a beat to put the curve in your felt fedora brim, the Clark Sisters contribute their vocal brilliance to this track creating, in tandem with the instrumental, a festive sound: all the jubilance of fans cheering for the same team celebrating an improvement in the score. The vocals command, reminding the listener that the might of many is greater than the will of one, no matter how persistent.
In “Peace from God,” CeCe’s voice is like the warmth of a fire after dark when you’re chilled to the bones at 10,000 feet. It is like candlelight when the power’s been knocked out and you really need to write something down. The song could comfort the suffering and feed the hungry in a way that money cannot. CeCe reassures in falling tones that the cosmic candy dish is infinite and contains everything anyone ever needed while they wait on the sofa in the living room of life.
CeCe delivers a gripping vocal performance in Kris Kristofferson’s country-tinged “Why Me.” She questions and pleads her worthiness to the Lord, with vocals that are appropriately celebratory without venturing into the minefield-laden lands of hubris. CeCe’s voice warbles and wails, soaring up and down the scale lightly, like a feather floating on air currents imperceptible to our humble human senses. Then the album shifts in velocity, like Mario getting a star, with “Lowly.” The song is a message of piety, a hustling, bustling warning against flying too close to the sun, or, perhaps, against doing something reprehensible just to affirm one’s existence. As the song winds down, CeCe’s voice is 600 thread count. She sings, Man, what’s in your hand? / What is it you’re holding? Let go of it! in supplication to whomever is up to no good and/or engaging in self-destructive behavior. By the end of the song the listener is surfing with glee on waves of delicious, delightful sound, reminding the listener that while the baggage may go out of style, the person lugging it is always a passenger.
Certain songs from animated movie soundtracks tend to stick because there is such expression and clarity in the words that are sung. “Never Have to Be Alone” could be featured on such a soundtrack, prompting singing stay-at-home dads in makeshift wigs to go viral, corporate trainers to include the most famous line in their presentations (receiving forced laughter), and politicians you’ve never heard of getting several seconds of screen time for using the line while orating. With sweeping orchestral parts, acoustic guitar, and piano that would work in a riparian scene, the song is light and CeCe’s voice is as comforting as the balled-up sweater that serves as a pillow when sleep comes before wheels up on an morning flight.
“Dancing in the Spirit” comes onto the album like the main act appears in front of a crowd who has waited through three opening acts for that first electrifying blast of sound. It is an effulgent track where CeCe’s voice shines. Her voice is clear with a timbre thick like cake batter. If you listen to it alone, you get to lick the spoon. “Marvelous” begins muted, with faint voices falling to their knees before an organ that might make you tug on your dress. Then CeCe’s voice sings a series of notes, increasingly emboldened, to the entity responsible for making the world such an awesome place to be. When joined by the choir the prudently revelatory song brings to mind images of carnivorous birds flying through the immensity of rocky valleys, triggering a pang of that thing that religion shares with patriotism, at least in the United States. I was tempted to stand and place my hand over the part of my chest where I estimate my heart to be. The song is a growing glowing brilliant ball of sound that says Come as you are, and stay for the cookout. Electric guitar gives the song an edge as it crams in dozens of notes with the voices as if to serve as a Genie lift, raising those voices closer to the heavens.
The final song, the title track, is a beautiful composition of dreamy strings, piano, and percussion, that develops like perfect pea soup. The lyrics implore the Father to cut some slack to those rascals who are only rascals because they don’t know any better. Whereas the beginning of the song is a glass-half-full, by the end of the track, with the addition of male voices, CeCe cranks up the vocals and the listener is left feeling abluted and assuaged.
Let Them Fall in Love is a leviathan of an album, perfect for those days when you’re feeling like the toothpaste tube when it is exactly three squeezes from being replaced. CeCe’s silken voice is like a bird in an Audubon watercolor: brightly plumed and beautiful, every different laryngeal position offers a fascinating and artistic view of the same magnificent creature. With such mastery over her vocal tract, CeCe could change the chemical structure of water into something more potent. She is an artist who has reached a level of experience and acclaim that has rendered her unstoppable. She’s out on tour right now; June 17th she’ll be in Boston with the Pops, and on the 23rd she’ll be in Atlanta. Hers is a voice to hear live. Just be prepared to tremble before its glory.