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Album Review

When blockbuster gospel/R&B duo BeBe & CeCe Winans decided to hang it up in 1994 to concentrate on solo careers, they literally split themselves in half. Without flinching, BeBe Winans went the route of contemporary R&B, releasing a handful of soulful projects spread across a litany of record labels — a streak that was prolific and mainstream-friendly, but too erratic in light of his and his sister's past glories. CeCe Winans, by contrast, became a superstar: by remaining true to the Winans' gospel heritage, she went on to sell millions of records, collected multiple Grammys, and even founded a boutique gospel label of her own. As disparate as the siblings' night-and-day fortunes were, nothing quite compared to the magic the two could create together, a spell that's in full force on Still, BeBe & CeCe's long-in-the-making return. As far as comebacks of the decade go, Still ranks right up there with Whitney Houston's I Look to You, except Clive's protégé sounds weathered and worn, while the Winans sound as if they never left. Aware of how high-profile their return is, the twosome pulls out all the stops and calls every shot, going to great lengths to ensure "things" are as slick, accessible, and feel-good as nearly their entire, early-'90s run was. With every return there's a certain appeal to nostalgia, a fact that's not lost on the quirky, autobiographical title track where the duo proffers, "It's been a long time since we've been together," only to later wax reflective and name-check a laundry list of their previous hits in the chorus. A cutesy, calculated move on BeBe's part, sure — he remains the chief songwriter — but think of it as a prologue of sorts. From there, the pair gets right back to business on the knockout first single, "Close to You," a smooth throwback that, aside from a misplaced Auto-Tuned bridge, would make Babyface and old-school fans smile. The track, like the majority of Still, is an ode of love and devotion to God, but the duo is intentional in keeping the sentiments broad and ambiguous — maximum exposure is the goal here. Even CeCe, who never shied away from gospel or the Gospel as a solo artist, only limits herself to third-person allusions to the divine, as when she calls God "G.O.D." in the reggae-fied "He Can Handle It." These pleasantries are sure to miff gospel purists, but they're pure BeBe & CeCe. Much like big brothers the Winans, their vision is to inspire and uplift regardless of persuasion, which explains why the grand "Grace," with its sweeping orchestral flourishes and choral parts, doesn't quite spell it all out for the wayward listener, but gives enough hints to suggest a universal need for God's gift. Not everything on Still is this dense, thankfully: BeBe & CeCe are too good at the pop thing to not evoke the cheerful vibe of their heyday, which they deliver in spades here, whether they're channeling early Mariah ("Things"), Off the Wall ("Reason to Dance"), Motown ("Never Thought"), or more modern fare (the Ne-Yo-esque "Change My World"). Classic and current all at once, Still is a widely varied set, more so than any other the siblings ever recorded before. It may seem like they're trying to be all things to all people and see what sticks, but BeBe & CeCe are beyond crowd-pleasing just for the sake of it. Chalk it up instead to two relatives who haven't seen each other in a while and just want to have the time of their lives — exchanging notes, sharing lessons learned, and reminiscing about the past while looking expectantly to what lies ahead.

Biography

Formed: Detroit, MI

Genre: Christian & Gospel

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Detroit-born brother and sister BeBe (Benjamin) and CeCe (Priscilla) Winans are part of the gospel-singing Winans family that also includes the Winans, their four brothers. As a duo, BeBe & CeCe maintain the gospel message, although their records have the production values and style of contemporary R&B. They released their debut album, BeBe & CeCe Winans, in 1987 and scored a moderate hit (number 49) on the R&B charts with the single "I.O.U. Me" scoring on the R&B and adult contemporary...
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Still, BeBe & CeCe Winans
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