In It To Win It – Charlie Wilson Album Review (RCA Records) by Andre Kelly

If you know anything about the GAP Band’s former frontman, now soloist, the indefatigable and legendary Charlie Wilson, then you understand that the man and his IN-sane vocal runs, are pretty much unstoppable. I’ve followed his string of above-par albums the last decade and without a doubt, the man still knows his way around strong, sensual, romantic ballads. On this, his sixth studio album, true to decades worth of experience, reputation and form, In It To Win It, he’s showing no signs of age or even slowing down.

Like Taylor Swift’s 2012 Red, which ingeniously straddled pop and country, while easing her even further into the mainstream, this, might be Wilson’s similar strategy going from R&B to gospel given it’s very strong undercurrent of themes and interludes of praise and redemption are readily apparent.

Three of the album’s 13 tracks “Blessed,” “New Addiction” and “Amazing God” are unashamedly straight up Gospel. Equal parts testimony and semi-autobiographical, the record spools parts of his life with the songs serving as connecting stories for the uninitiated.

There’s no shortage of star power either given that many of the unlikely but fitting pairings of artists having grownup with Uncle Charlie, consider it an honor to sing alongside an unsung legend. T.I. Pitbull, Whiz Khalifa, Robin Thicke and even Snoop Dogg all grace the project not that he even needs their wattage when he’s still packing plenty of his own. Standouts include the humble and celebratory Blessed, the foot stompin’ energy of “Dance Tonight” and “Good Time,” the stripped, acoustic splendor of “Better,” the clubby, House vibe of “Gold Rush” and the triumphant, church-infused jubilation of “New Addiction.”

Now, I’m a total sucker for a truly great, smartly-written love song and the warm, robust Chills fits that bill nicely. However, his duet with this year’s back-to-back winning Grammy darling, Lalah Hathaway on “Made For Love” alone, is worth the price of admission. Both are in rare form with her perfect, smoldering, husky, warm vocal wrapping sublimely around his prodigious, and famously, unmatchable instrument. It is singularly, one of their best vocals.

As with too many current studio recordings, unfortunately, there’s that odd taint of autotune which, on Wilson’s part, is totally unnecessary and a slight taming of his still incredible pipes however overall, In It To Win It, is an intense, colorful, candid, portrait of a man and showbiz legend who’s supremely humble, refreshingly grateful and clearly, still, at the top of his game.

-Andre Kelley