03.20.2019

Exclusive! Carvin Winans’ New Solo Album Was Almost 40 Years In The Making

Exclusive! Carvin Winans’ New Solo Album Was Almost 40 Years In The Making

By Michael P Coleman

It only took 38 years for Carvin Winans, one of gospel music’s legendary Winans family, to record his first solo project, In The Softest Way.  The genre-defying album is exactly what fans have come to expect from him. 

Winans, along with his twin Marvin and brothers Ronald and Michael, burst onto the music scene in 1981 with the landmark Introducing The Winans album and “The Question Is,” which topped gospel and R & B charts nationwide.  Over the ensuing couple of decades, all of Winans’ band mates and his younger siblings released solo projects — even his parents and the next generation of Winans released several albums — while Carvin’s fans have had to wait for him to strike out on his own.

CarvinWinans albumcoverGood things have come to those who have waited. In The Softest Way’s eleven engaging tracks feature the first-rate production, compelling lyrics, and stellar vocals for which Winans and his family have always been known. 

But there’s something decidedly different about this new album.  During our EXCLUSIVE interview, Winans told me that the different element this time around was, very simply, Carvin.

“I would look at the new album as an Urban Contemporary record, but even more as just Carvin Winans’ music,” the 61 year old legend told me by phone from his home in Toronto.  “It’s the journey of Carvin, and it’s ALL of me. It’s all of what I had bound up inside.”

"I loved recording with my brothers, but it was great to not have to turn around and say ‘What do you think? Do you think that will work?’  I experienced freedom in the studio,” Winans said.

“Listeners have gotten bits of pieces from what I wrote for The Winans, but with this new album, I got to tell my whole story,” Winans continued.  “If you listen to the songs that God gave me for the group, I never said ‘I want this to be gospel’.  I wanted to write songs that could help somebody.” 

“When I wrote 'Make It Like It Was,' the song Regina Belle recorded and took to #1 R & B, I wasn’t really praying and going to church like I had done in years past. I said ‘God, you have to change my mind. Make it like it used to be.’”

That startling transparency and candor is inherent in every song on In The Softest Way.  Among the collection’s highlights are the title track (which features Kenny G on saxophone), the mid-tempo “Once In A Lifetime,” “Just Wait,” “A Little Love,” and “You Blow My Mind”, a gorgeous declaration of love that Winans wrote for his wife, Chérie. 

The new album’s opus is “If You Only Knew My Heart,” a stunner that features Stevie Wonder’s harmonica and one of Winans’ best vocal performances. It’s on par with his classics “When You Cry” and “Tomorrow.” 

If you don’t believe me, just ask gospel legend Fred Hammond.

“Fred gave me a phone call the morning after the new album came out,” Winans recalled, “and said he listened to it and started to cry.  He said the lyrical content of ‘If You Only Knew My Heart’, and the way I delivered the song, was unlike anything he’d ever heard in his life.”

Another surprising highlight from In The Softest Way is the album’s opener, “Ready To Love You.”  On that cut, Winans duets with perhaps the last person one might expect to hear on his first solo project: his twin brother Marvin, with whom he shared lead vocals for years.

“When I sat down to do this new album, I didn’t have anyone in mind to do a duet with. I just wanted to do Carvin,” Winans insisted.  “But Marvin’s my twin brother, and I have a lot of respect for his ability when it comes to singing, writing, and preaching.  I’m in awe of him, so I wasn’t going to dare to do a solo record and not have him do a song with me.”

As great as it is to hear the twins together again, Carvin’s voice is the centerpiece of In The Softest Way. His instrument is an untouched wonder, breezily drifting between his riveting tenor and his soaring falsetto.  Winans told me that Rance Allen, Donny Hathaway, and Shalamar’s Howard Hewitt were three of his biggest vocal influences. 

“Donny Hathaway was something to listen to,” Winans said. “His voice was so pure, and what I loved about Donny was he didn’t do a lot of vocal acrobatics. He was by far the best vocalist around.”

Winans is too modest to say it, so I will:  with no disrespect to Hathaway, Allen, or Hewitt, and I’m a fan of them all, Winans consistently out-sings them on In The Softest Way.  The new album may be Winans’ best work.

If In The Softest Way isn’t enough to celebrate, the legend insisted that we’ll see him on the road soon. 

“I want to tour so bad on this record,” Winans enthused.  “It doesn’t matter who I go out with. A lot of times when you do a solo record, and you kinda switch lanes a little bit, people almost look at you like a new artist, but I don’t care about that.”

You heard the icon correctly: with decades under his belt as a singer / songwriter, Carvin Winans doesn’t mind starting from scratch, as it were, to promote his first solo album.  It was the kind of modest statement that permeated our conversation.

As In The Softest Way was almost 40 years in the making, I had to ask Winans what the heck took him so long! 

“When I started, my main goal was to do whatever I needed to do for the group,” Winans recalled.  “Even when Marvin would do his thing or Ronald would do his thing, I was always focused on pushing The Winans’ music and giving my all to that.”

“When Ronald passed, I actually wanted to stop singing,” Winans confessed.  “Being on stage without him didn’t feel right to me. Then Marvin, BeBe and my wife talked me into doing the 3WB album, and it put me back into my element, back in the studio.  I wasn’t really happy with the way that album turned out, though, so I didn’t want to leave the scene with that record!”

“Don’t get me wrong: I always wanted to do a solo project, but I always just felt that I had to do it in God’s timing. His timing is perfect.”

So is In The Softest Way

Carvin Winans new In The Softest Way is available at all major digital outlets, and at Amazon.

Look to the Spring issue of The Hub’s print magazine and to sacculturalhub.com this spring for more from our EXCLUSIVE chat with Carvin Winans. 

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 Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP.