DIONNE WARWICK: ‘Why We Sing’ (Label: Rhino)

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Given the strength and indeed depth of her gospel music roots – her career started in church as a member of The Gospelaires group – it may be surprising to some that this world-renowned singer from East Orange, New Jersey, has only cut two out-and-out inspirational records in her long career. This new album is her second foray into church music – previously, she recorded a devotional LP entitled ‘The Magic Of Believing’ for Scepter in 1968, which was largely overlooked because it came at a time when Warwick was experiencing a fertile period in the pop sphere as the protégé of songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Forty years on and the 67-year-old chanteuse embraces her formative musical roots with a 12-track set helmed by her son, Damon Elliott (who’s previously collaborated with the likes of Beyoncé, Pink, Destiny’s Child and Eminem). The added presence of Warwick’s other son, David Elliott, and her younger sister, Dee Dee, makes this a bona fide family affair. Material-wise, it’s a mixture of the old and the new – of both traditional and contemporary gospel songs. It kicks off with the deeply patriotic ‘Battle Hymn Of the Republic’ and also includes heartfelt renditions of gospel staples like an organ-infused ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd,’ and ‘Rise, Shine And Give God The Glory.’ A more contemporary stylistic patina is provided by Be Be Winans, who pens three of the album’s twelve tunes and provides a typically soulful vocal cameo on the uplifting ‘I’m Going Up.’ The title track is a slow, Kirk Franklin-penned ballad, featuring the plaintive vocals of Warwick’s junior sibling Dee Dee. More upbeat is the propulsive ‘I Lift My Heart,’ featuring thrilling antiphonal interplay between Warwick and her background vocalists on the chorus section. Though Warwick is unlikely to acquire new fans with this solid opus, it will certainly please the most loyal of her disciples.
(CW) 3/5