Monday, August 07, 2006

Review: Vickie Winans' Woman to Woman: Songs of Life

Vickie Winans
Woman To Woman: Songs of Life (Verity)
Released August 2006
reviewed by LaTonya Taylor

4 out of 5 stars

Sounds like … an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary gospel music for fans of Helen Baylor or Anita Baker.

At a glance … impressive for its magnitude alone, Woman to Woman showcases Winans' stylistic diversity and ability to choose songs that resonate with listeners.

I once saw Vickie Winans behind the scenes at the Stellar Awards, flashing her megawatt smile and wearing an elegant ball gown with little black house slippers. The combination seemed utterly natural—over her 20-plus years in the industry, Winans has been known for her warmth and wit, Motor City fashion flair and down-home honesty.

Winans brings that openness to Woman to Woman: Songs of Life, her follow-up to 2003's Bringing It All Together. Several songs deal with overcoming struggles, likely based on Winans' challenges with health, divorce, and the music industry. The double-disc set combines studio cuts with live tracks recorded at Chicago's House of Hope in May 2006. It's an extremely diverse grouping of songs, featuring Winans' throaty alto in high-energy dance-pop tracks, a soaring ballad or two, R&B slow jams, mass-choir songs, praise and worship choruses, hip-hop, quartet, smooth jazz, and calypso. There's even some gospel go-go on the album, which also includes tributes from sons Mario and Marvin, Jr., an appearance from Winans' protégé trio PreZence, and a duet with husband Joe McLemore.

The inclusion of several songs from the past—including covers of Hawkins Family favorites "Try Christ" and "I Love You Lord," and an expansive, extravagant version of Winans' own "God of Comfort"—give the album a retrospective feel amid more contemporary tracks. Fans of The Winans should listen for a shiverlicious flashback at the beginning of disc 2, when Winans echoes the group's 1989 Live at Carnegie Hall by opening the live set with "A Change Will Come."

Woman to Woman could benefit from some thoughtful trimming and reorganization along a thematic, stylistic or even past-to-present motif. As is, it's kind of a jumble, often zigzagging between different styles and emotional shades from song to song. Still, in some ways, the magnitude and eclecticism of the project align with elements of Winans' persona. After all, Winans is known for her work ethic—nicknamed "the hardest-working woman in gospel music"—and her generosity.

No comments: