by: CeCe Winans

Long one of the most successful and respected voices in the world of African-American gospel music, with Purified CeCe Winans makes a bid for crossover success. Her seventh solo album is a mixed bag, thematically speaking, combining funky pop music, moderately gritty R&B, and more typical gospel fare. Things get off to a slightly awkward start with the hackneyed and maudlin "Mamma's Kitchen" ("Can't we just go back to the simple kind of living," etc.), but gradually finds its groove over the course of the next few tracks: "You Will" is a gorgeous expression of spiritual devotion and trust, and "Pray" (the album's first single) is a delicious pop-funk gospel confection. "All That I Need" invokes early Anita Baker with its surging quiet storm groove and throbbing vocals, but combines that seductively earthy sound with artfully ambiguous romantic-spiritual lyrics. The album peaks about halfway through with "Just Like That," a funk-gospel masterpiece that opens with a spare and strutting verse before exploding into a rich and densely arranged chorus. "You Are Loved" is a winner as well, but then the program bogs down just a bit, finally reaching its nadir with the eye-rolling string of multi-culti banalities that is "Colorful World." "He's Concerned" goes a good distance toward redeeming the album's last stretch, but not quite far enough. Definitely worth acquiring, but you'll want to be selective about what you put on the iPod. ~ Rick Anderson

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