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'Bout It

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
'Bout It
Sounds like … the classic pop-gospel that The Winans and Andrae Crocuh released in the 1970s, with a modern production.At a Glance … 'Bout It isn't a very original-sounding album, but Willie Norwood performs it with the same soul and passion as his contemporaries.

You may not know of Willie Norwood, but he's been performing gospel music since the 1970s — and you almost certainly know his children, R&B artist Ray J. and actress/singer Brandy. For years, Willie has served as the lead singer and trumpeter for The Composers, a soul group from his home state of Mississippi. He also made a living leading church choirs. All the while, Willie's wife and manager, Sonja, tried to acquire a recording contract for her husband. Surely the success of his daughter, Brandy, and her high praise of dad's vocal coaching helped convince Atlantic to consider releasing an album from Willie. His solo debut, 'Bout It, represents a work that's been thirty years in the making.

Fans of soul and gospel will enjoy this star-studded collection of original songs and familiar favorites. Keyboardist Billy Preston is probably most famous for playing keyboards on The Beatles's Let It Be album, and he contributes his skills here on the gospel ballad "I'd Trade a Lifetime" and on the slow funk shuffle of the title track. Legendary gospel group The Williams Brothers wrote the smooth R&B inspirational ballads "No Limit" and "The Search Is Over" for the album, and also contributed backing vocals and members of their own band to the mix. "A Love Shared," penned by Angie Winans, is almost guaranteed to earn radio play. The pop ballad features a duet with Willie's daughter, Brandy, as well as a sax solo from Kirk Whalum. Its affirmation of father-daughter love is sure to make this a "Butterfly Kisses"-like hit at many weddings. One of the album's most poignant tracks is a cover of the classic hymn, "Have Thine Own Way," featuring three generations of Norwoods. It begins with Willie's father, church deacon W.T. Norwood, Sr., singing the first verse with just piano accompaniment. As the song progresses in production from classic gospel to a more modern sound, the vocals shift to Willie and eventually to his son, Ray J.

Other album highlights include a fresh funk-gospel take on the classic "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" and a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Have a Talk With God" from his 1976 Songs in the Key of Life album. Because the album is filled with other artists' songs, many of which were written in the '60s and '70s, 'Bout It doesn't really establish Willie as an artist with something new to offer. I wish Willie personally contributed more original material, such as his simple and beautiful acoustic ballad, "All That I Need," a testimony to the perseverance of his marriage through the years - good times and bad. But what he lacks in originality, he makes up for in passion and performance. Willie's soulful tenor recalls the legendary vocals of Al Green and Marvin Gaye, and the roster of talent that contributed to the performance and production of this album is quite impressive. If you're looking for a charming collection of retro-flavored gospel-pop reminiscent of old albums from The Winans and Andrae Crouch, be sure to check out Willie Norwood's debut.

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