BeBe Winans: Dream
Label: Still Waters/TMG
Sound/Style: limber and low-key urban/contemporary gospel
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- If you have two versions of the same song in front of you, can one be "more spiritual" than the other? This question brings to mind the pop hit "Up Where We Belong," the Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes duet from the film An Officer and A Gentleman. In the hands of siblings Bebe and Cece Winans, the song took on a reverent sheen that was seemingly unemphasized on the original. Did Cocker's constrained rasp (and the mental picture of his bizarre arm twitches) somehow draw attention away from the song's prayer-like chorus? Did the Winans, gospel artists with a penchant for pop, invite the Holy Spirit into a song otherwise lacking in it? I admit I’m playing devil’s advocate here, because I have long been frustrated by surface classifications that "tell" listeners whether or not a song is supposed to touch their souls. There’s an indefinable quality that can be discerned in a spiritually potent song, regardless of its stylistic niche. When it’s present, the secular-versus-sacred argument is mostly a moot point. So it is with Bebe Winans’ latest solo record, Dream, which sacrifices nothing in the way of physicality and pop savvy.
Winans’ smooth, soulful work straddles the modern gospel and urban pop borders, and alternates explicitly Christian sentiments with songs that integrate the human and the supernatural, exemplifying the way a believer tends to view life issues through the lens of faith. The thematically rich "Love Thang," for example, ties new birth together with rebirth and Father of Man with father of child. While the first verse is specific to the anticipated arrival of a new baby, the second verse neatly synchronizes notions of parenthood and the Christian life: "I remember the time and place when I first heard the good news/from that moment on I started to live for you/it’s amazing…how love can bring life, how your life changed my point of view." Though numbers like this one and the brightly synth-adorned "That’s A Friend" bind together Jesus’ faithfulness and its human manifestations, the overriding theme of God in and among us is best seen in context of the entire record.
The artist draws poignantly from the words of civil rights activist Martin Luther King in "I Have A Dream," which employs sound bytes of King’s speeches and carries the cry for racial equality into the 21st century with compassion and commitment. The moving seven-minute track is followed by a faith response, "Help Is On The Way," a number with a breezy ease that audibly embodies the trust of one who knows relief will come. "If I Let My Heart Go," as paired with "Miracle Of Love" (a romantic duet sung with Angie Stone), addresses the fear of total surrender and connects the dots between a trembling heart given to God and a heart made malleable for a mate. "Love Me Anyway" offers gratitude for grace and floats between minor and major tonalities, mirroring great sin conquered by a greater love, while "Have You Ever Had," the disc’s most kinetic cut, shines light into the darker days we all encounter.
Polished yet earthy, Dream possesses a casual, subdued energy that summons a sense of God’s approachability. Throughout, the combination of Winans’ breathy delivery with cushiony background vocals and warm electric piano creates a place of thoughtful rest, but one where, if you’re so inclined, you can groove with God.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.