Marvin Winans and The Perfected Praise Choir

It's been nine long years since Pastor Marvin Winans' ground-breaking church choir project, Introducing Perfected Praise stunned the Gospel world with its combination of innovative arrangements and powerful messagery.

Friends CDNow back with a much-anticipated sophomore effort, and this time on his sister Angie Winans' Against The Flow Records, Pastor Winansí ministry of music continues in same vein as before, with Friends.

Itís evident from the dramatic opening, a classically-edged tune from Antun Foster ("Blessed Be The Lord"). With full-service instrumental support, Winans narrates on the majesty and worthiness of God, with the choirís close harmonies and swelling phrases serving as a call-and-response.

From there on in, the album opens up into a potpourri of compositions that bring an expert mix of traditional and contemporary flavas, making them accessible to nearly all. With eight of the CDís ten songs penned by Winans —widely recognized as one of Gospelís most talented songwriters — itís no surprise that the album is chock full of gems.

Thereís "More Of Thee", a marvelously melodied and rhythmically creative song which, with Winans on lead vocals, has a heavy Ďmemory stickí factor. The title cut, "Friends" is an uptempo ballad that reflects on Godly friendship and looks to reunion on Ďthat other shoreí. Norma McPherson joins with Winans in rich tenderness of tone.

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"Yet Praise" is a star-studded and jazzily assembled cut that begins with Adrian Smithís high tenor smoothness professing our praise to God come what may. By songís end, Smith moves to soaring riffs and runs punctuated by choir lines that break down the lyrics into two and three word segments. The song then gets a full reprise, with both Karen Clark-Sheard and Vanessa Bell Armstrong joining with Pastor Winans to send it into the stratosphere.

Other songs are equally compelling, including the testimonial and uplifting "Iím Free" and "Hold Me In Your Arms Tonight". This latter song is a gentle prayer to Jesus that reflects on the inevitable hurts that we each encounter in life, and confesses that itís only in Jesus that we find our comfort. Kuipio Livingston joins with Winans on lead.

Another of the joys of Friends is that we get to hear Kayla Parker again. She sings on "If God Said It" with her inimitable flair of uncluttered vocal sound and reliance on jazz modalities that don't compromise the impact of the melody.

Longtime Detroit percussion man Dana Davis steps out by contributing one of the most traditional cuts on the project, "Walk Like Jesus Walked".

Like their first project, the more you listen to this album, the more you grow to appreciate its strength and power. Mutiple listens are called for, and thatís always a joy with Marvin Winans and The Perfected Praise Choir.

Producers: Marvin L. Winans
album release date: April 3, 2001
Against The Flow Records

ó reviewed by Stan North ó

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