Carvin Winans – In The Softest Way (2019)
Since they first graced the urban music community, The Winans - Marvin, Ronald, Michael and Carvin - a quartet of brothers signed by gospel legend, Andrae Crouch, enjoyed a gratifying run on the gospel and R&B charts. Long after the Winans' glory days in the eighties and nineties, fans and peers were waiting on Carvin to flex his vocal skills as a solo artist, even as his songwriting skills were very much in demand by artists such as Whitney Houston, Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. That defining moment arrived with the teaming of Marvin and BeBe Winans on the 2014 project entitled Foreign Land that motivated Carvin to hit the studio in a solo capacity. And after hearing Carvin joining Michael McDonald for a Marvin Gaye classic, “What's Going On,” on a Gospel to Soul series via You Tube, and singing at Houston's funeral, this long anticipated debut was absolutely necessary.
This debut from The Dance Factory/Thirty Tigers, In The Softest Way, finds Carvin inviting some special friends including producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Stevie Wonder and Kenny G. The tracks primarily speak about love on various levels, yet with an adult contemporary R&B focus. For those who may have presumed Carvin would focus on gospel, this clearly was not his ultimate purpose; yet he still aims to inspire how to genuinely give and understand love, whether of a religious persuasion or otherwise. As for the overall effort, most of the songs on In The Softest Way are worthy of Carvin's velvety tenor pipes, despite so-so background vocal production.
For starters, Wonder and Kenny G compliment Carvin in a mighty sweet way. The title track, frosted in a smooth jazz way with Kenny G’s help, shows an appreciation for a special lover. Stevie Wonder contributes his warm harmonica with “If Only You Knew My Heart,” where he asks his lover to really know him on more than just one level.
While there are several slow jams, Carvin works out the funk with the initial single from In The Softest Way, "Once In A Lifetime," that points to the scriptural text in Proverbs 18 about finding a good woman for life. And “A Little Love” points to a testing of faith above loving God despite the everyday trials and tribulations: “I’ve been hurt before/Can’t cry no more/Cause everyone has ups and downs.” A winning duet with Tony Maiden, “Say Yes,” asks for a chance to be the one and only true love for life.
Then there comes “So Whatcha’ Got,” heading in an opposite and disappointing direction from what Carvin represents about love throughout In The Softest Way: “So whatcha’ got/Can you love like that/All I need is a yes from you/And I got your back.” With the rare miscue aside, Carvin drops an ultimate highlight in “Misunderstood” about the dangers of pleasing people: “What do people think of all my mistakes/But then again do I really care.”
In keeping with the family, Carvin and Marvin bounce off each other on the upbeat “Ready to Love You.” And Carvin delivers a long song to his wife, Cherie, “You Blow My Mind.”
With the winning result of his first solo recording, In A Softest Way, we hope that Carvin continues to develop his solo recording career. He has provided a worthy addition to both his storied career and to the 2019 musical landscape. Solidly Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver