In the contemporary gospel arena, Bebe Winans is hard to beat. He’s the creative force behind dozens of inspirational, genre-defying classics like “I.O.U. Me,” “Heaven,” “Lost Without You,” “Addictive Love,” “I’ll Take You There,” and “If Anything Ever Happened To You” with his sister Cece, along with several artistically and commercially successful solo projects.
Winans has been at it since 1984. So when he releases, perhaps, the best album of his career, the brilliant new Need You, discriminating music fans sit up and take notice.
During our EXCLUSIVE interview, Winans told me that there’s a direct correlation between his four decade run at the top of the charts and the quality of his new project.
“When you get older, you become wiser in whatever job you’re in,” the 56-year-old legend told me, “because of the knowledge that comes with time, especially if you’re working in the same industry. I think I’ve learned how to sing. I’ve learned to interpret what I’m feeling in my vocal performance. And these songs are the best I’ve ever written. I feel this album is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
OK, it’s time for some real talk: it’s one thing for an artist to call his current project “the best thing” he’s ever done. Most artists would say that — they want to sell albums. It’s the music business, after all.
But it’s another thing entirely for this writer to say, and I am telling you the hand-to-God-in-heaven truth: Need You is an artistic masterpiece, and Winans has never sounded better.
One of the new album’s highlights is “Come To The Water,” which I’d describe as a slow burner that sneaks up on you and eventually lays you out. Ever the prolific wordsmith, Winans has a better analogy to describe the song.
“To me, it’s like a stealth plane,” Winans said of that song. “You don’t know that plane is hovering over you, or the power that that plane has.”
The only additional warning I’ll give you about “Come To The Water” is this: if you’re not ready to surrender to whatever God has in store for you, skip that track. Ditto with “He Promised Me” and “In Jesus Name.”
Take a good listen to “Getting Ready To Blow” if you want to hear classic Bebe-isms, including the combination of the nursery rhyme “Eenie Meenie” with scripture about the last trumpet sound (I Cor 15:52). Only Bebe Winans could get away with it!
Needs You’s title track is gorgeous, and “Born For This,” the anchor of Winans’ upcoming biographical Broadway play, is a show-stopper.
Another of Need You’s highlights is a track that was originally recorded by Luther Vandross.
“We were like brothers,” Winans recalled of Vandross. “His death was as hard for me as [my brother] Ronald’s. When his “Power Of Love / Love Power” was suggested to me, at first I said ‘No, no, no!’” But after I sat down and thought about it, I knew that recording it would be therapeutic. I knew it would bring back great memories of our time together.”
“Luther did a lot of background arrangements and sang background on a lot of my stuff with Cece and a lot of my solo stuff, so when I was in the studio recording it, I thought of those projects. I got to laugh a little, and I cried a little bit here and there.”
“But most importantly with that song is the subject matter, which is love, and the power of it,” Winans continued. “And it caused me to think of experiences where I chose love over hatred, and how love is the greatest gift we have. I thought that recording ‘Power Of Love’ made a lot of sense, especially in the climate that we’re in right now.”
And if all of that doesn’t prompt you to pick up a copy of Need You, the new album also includes a striking collaboration with Winans’ sister Debbie Winans Lowe, “It’s All Good,” and a stunning duet with an emerging group called Korean Soul, “Laughter.” If you surmised that they don’t look like typical urban contemporary gospel singers, you’d be right. But guess what? They more than hang with Winans. In fact, their vocal performance prompted one of Winans’ very best, and ironically, they sound a lot like Winans’ older, groundbreaking brothers.
“I’m excited to present them here in the States,” Winans enthused of Korean Soul. “And their hearts — that’s the thing about them that’s really so incredible.”
Need You closes with one of the most moving compositions of Winans’ legendary career, “Farewell, Well Done.”
“It was written for Donnie [McClurkin]’s mom,” Winans said. “When she passed, I knew the pain because I knew how close Donnie was to her. I called him to say I was praying for him. When I hung up…I wrote the song right then. I sung it at her home-going.”
“At the last minute, I decided to record it for the new album,” Winans continued, “If you live long enough, you’re going to experience loss. We needed a song that helps us walk that rough road. As we’re saying goodbye, farewell, God is saying ‘Well done’. We’re saying one thing to our loved ones, and God’s saying another thing.”
Bebe Winans’ new Need You is available at all major digital outlets, at amazon.com, and at retail.