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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Throne Room

  • reviewed by LaTonya Taylor Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Sep
Throne Room
Sounds like … a stirring blend of piano-based melodies, intimate praise tunes and gospel-infused pop designed to encourage worship and reflection; this eclectic mix sounds at times like Enya, at others like Whitney HoustonAt a glance … Winans' sixth album as a solo artist blends her trademark contemporary gospel-pop with ethereal, vertically-focused worship music.

Carving out her own musical niche has proven to be an easily surmountable challenge for CeCe Winans. Originally known primarily as a member of one of gospel music's most prominent families, she has more recently developed a following within the pop, R&B, CCM and gospel music communities. While a few years ago those new to the gospel music scene were more likely to know her famous brothers, she's easily the best-known member of the Detroit-based family these days. Over the last 20 years, gospel music lovers have watched her develop from a timid teen who sang mostly with family members into a confident, independent singer/songwriter and industry figure rooted in the gospel sound but comfortable enough to blend it with other genres. And though she's respected as a major part of the contemporary gospel movement, she's clearly not content to rest as "one of the greats," preferring to let her music reflect continuing growth.

Throne Room is Winans' sixth album since she and brother BeBe decided to record as solo artists in 1995. It follows 2001's Grammy-winning self-titled album, which, like 1999's Alabaster Box, was recorded for her label, Wellspring Gospel. In Throne Room, Winans rejoins veteran arranger/producers Cedric and Victor Caldwell.

The first eight of the album's 16 tracks are devoted to worship and reflection. These songs feature gently layered background vocals, light echoes and occasional nature sounds. Here, Winans' voice demonstrates an impressive emotional and vocal range, using tone and phrasing to convey a breathless, almost-whispered intimacy and reverent awe.

Beginning with a lush, orchestral interlude and segueing into "Jesus, You're Beautiful," the first half of the album has a pensive, ethereal quality and lyrics focusing on God's attributes such as his majesty and holiness. The title track, penned by Winans and Andraé Crouch, describes the worshiper's entry into the throne room of God described in Revelation 4: "Welcome to the throne room/Welcome to the place where He shows his face/Oh, worship in spirit and truth … Bow down/And cry holy, holy."

Winans' interpretation of "How Great Thou Art" is breathless and intimate, and highlights the purity of her voice. The first verse features Winans' voice, echoing off the studio walls as the only sound. Though the song expands slightly over the next verses, eventually including acoustic guitar and soft background vocals, it avoids the musical cliché of an expansive last verse or chorus, instead maintaining a quieter, more easygoing pace. "You're So Holy" features repeated choruses in a style reminiscent of Enya, and "Hallelujah to the King" is a praise chorus likely to find its way into local churches.

The album's second half, featuring songs of praise and adoration, shifts into more familiar musical and lyrical territory, as these pop-and gospel-flavored songs emphasize the listener's emotional responses to God.

"We Thirst For You," based on Psalm 63:1, has the familiar, acoustic-pop feel of a praise chorus and features background vocals from Nashville's Born Again Church, Winans' home church. "Come Fill My Heart" begins as a simple, piano-based melody and builds to a guitar-and percussion-driven song accented by gentle strings and easy, inviting background vocals. Lyrics include: "Come quench this thirsting/Lord I am ready/Here I am waiting/Come fill my heart."

Other especially strong tracks from this half of the album include "Mercy Said No," a description of a Christian's struggle to understand grace, and "It's All in Your Name," penned by Winans' brother Carvin. This sleek, easygoing track highlights Winans' gentle soprano and features the warm, churchy interplay of piano, organ, drum and bass guitar. "No One Else" and has a smartly programmed, dance-pop feel. Sisters Angie and Debbie Winans join CeCe on this track. "Hallelujah Praise" has a sassy vibe, from the opening vamp through the ending chorus. The album ends with "A Heart Like Yours," a soft, string-accented plea for the compassionate, merciful heart of the Savior.

My guess is that faithful fans will prefer the second half of the album to the first, because those eight songs feel more familiar than the mellow vibe of the first half. Still, the whole album represents a solid effort from an industry figure known for making innovative music that transcends stylistic, social and musical barriers.