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Where has CeCe Winans been during the nine years between her last solo album and her new album Let Them Fall In Love?
Appropriately enough, in church -- at least for half of that time.
The Grammy Award-winning gospel/R&B star and her husband started their Nashville Light church during the early part of 2012. And that was enough to keep her occupied and away from the studio. "So for almost five years I've been totally focused on that," Winans (who released an album, Still, with her brother BeBe Winans in 2009) tells Billboard. "It was a really big undertaking, and I really couldn't focus on the music, and I'm one of those people who has to focus. Finally, once we got things going with the church and got a rhythm happening there, I was able to create some space and think about, 'What do I want to do next?'"
The answer came from her son, Alvin Love III, who co-produced Let Them Fall In Love (out. Feb. 3) with Tommy Sims and also wrote the bulk of the set's 10 tracks. And he provided a musical direction that led his mother in some new directions.
"It took me a while to grasp everything he was saying," Winans acknowledges, ranging from the lively approach of "Hey Devil," featuring the Clark Sisters, to "Lowly" and "Why Me Lord," tracks that are more traditional than Winans' usual crossover sound. "Some of the style of the songs when I first heard them, I was like, 'Whoa, I don't know if I can do this. But I listened and I was like, 'This is fresh,' and that was his point. He was like, 'Mom, I think you can do something that's really awesome, that's fresh, that's different but yet it's not you trying to be a teenybopper,' and when I got it, I got it and I was really excited."
Winans knows Let Them Fall In Love will also be something of a surprise for her fanbase. "The songs are different than what my audience is used to hearing from me," she acknowledges. "I've never been a traditional gospel artist, and some of the things are probably more traditional than I've done before. But I think we put something together that will not only embrace my old listeners but will bring in some new ones. I really think this record will be able to do what I've done in the past, and more."
The torchy first single, "Never Have To Be Alone," is certainly familiar, however. And its message is timely for the season, according to Winans. "One of the things we see a lot of is people dealing with loneliness," she explains. "They deal with depression. They deal with a heavy heart. So I knew it was a song that would touch people where they need to be touched. Now we're about to go into the holidays, when some people feel even more lonely. It's a song to remind you that when we pray, God is there. He is with us. We have everything we need to face everything we have to face. I like to make music like that, that makes a difference in people's day."
No tour is planned to support the album yet, and Winans doesn't sound like she's in any hurry to hit the road. "I love doing live shows and being with the audiences everywhere, but it's the traveling and the leaving home that I'm not looking forward to," she says. "That's the most challenging thing for me is touring. But William Morris is putting things together now, so we'll see exactly what it looks like." In the meantime, Winans will be busy at Nashville Light, ministering to a diverse and growing congregation that has a particularly strong millenmial base. "Most of our church is probably between 20 and 30," she says. With the election we're praying. There's a song on the record called 'Peace From God' that I think is the universal prayer that we would see peace -- peace in our government, peace in our community and peace in our nation. I'm trying to teach these young people that the way we respond to troubled times is to pray. We're praying for those who are in leadership, praying for the police, praying for the black community, coming together and learning about each other. That's an awesome opportunity during the sad things that are going on to fight the way I know how to fight -- with prayer."
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