Johnny Gill | Still Winning

Johnny Gill - Still Winning

Johnny Gill | Still Winning
by Brent Faulkner

After fifteen long years, R&B veteran Johnny Gill releases only his sixth solo release, Still Winning. Gill’s last high profile appearance of note was back in 2006 in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion in which he performed “You For Me (The Wedding Song).” That song, though not a ‘hit’ per say, showed that Gill still had the ‘pipes’ that made him such a popular force in R&B. Still Winning, despite honing in on Gill’s incredible vocal talents, never quite does the R&B singer the justice it should. He sounds polished oscillating between sweet falsetto and soulful, grit-laden growls, but the material sags at times, failing to be noteworthy or truly memorable. Despite this, Gill sings on and shows off why he is ‘still winning.’

“Still Winning” opens the effort with clunky-production that sounds better intended for a younger, more contemporary artist. It is not that Gill cannot sell it, but it is a bit ill-fitting considering how refined and polished Gill sounds – more like the Freddie Jackson or Keith Sweat era of R&B males. Additionally hurting the cut is the over-repetitious lyrics ; “still winning” is overused by ‘a mile.’ “Let’s Stay Together” proceeds providing some slight sense of atonement, though it is far from Bryan-Michael Cox’s finest production or Gill’s valedictory moment of his career. Solid, soulful background vocals help to assemble the backdrop for Gill to paint his silky smooth, sometimes gritty lead vocals upon. The bride section is a high point as well. As “Let’s Get Together” evolves, the track grows on the listener gradually. Still Winning gets off to somewhat of a sluggish start.

Finally with “In The Mood,” Gill finds a cut that connects well with his vocal talents and with his audience. The production is superb, the background vocals serve their supporting purpose, and Gill sounds electrifying for the most part. The only quibble? At over five minutes, Gill and producers could have indulged a bit less. “Just The Way You Are” keeps the momentum going (co-written by Johnta Austin, Troy Taylor and Vincent Watson) with perhaps the album’s best cut. The sound is contemporary-R&B leaning in the adult contemporary direction – a sound that has come to characterize and epitomize Gill. The straightforward, straight-laced sound does Gill great justice, not to mention the solid songwriting and perfect length of four minutes. “Black Box” would not dare compromise the ‘hot streak,’ with Gill’s vocal ad libs hitting a lofty peak. After a slow start, Gill manages to generate some momentum.

Unfortunately for the rest of Still Winning, inconsistency of material hinders. “Long, Long Time” is great in concept, even if it never quite ascends to its full potential. Featuring soulful vocals from Eddie LeVert (The O’Jays, Gerald LeVert’s father), the cut layers a couple too many voices in once setting. Bryan-Michael Cox, to his credit, assembles a better, more notable production than “Let’s Stay Together.” “2nd Place” is another cut that has the right concept, but even with flagship vocals from Gill, he is never quite able to make the uninspired songwriting ‘inspiring.’ Vocally a masterclass, it isn’t Gill who lacks, but rather the songwriting or perhaps just the drabness of the songwriting theme. “Who Is He” features a fine array of archetypical 1980s sound effects. Again, Gill sounds inspired, more-so than the material itself. By the end, “Who Is He’ turns into an overwrought, melodramatic cut. At 5:19, it proves just to be too much. “It Would Be You” is an easy going ballad that brings nothing revolutionary while “My Love,” a Paul/Linda McCartney classic, highlights Gill’s smooth vocals, though is forgettable as the closing cut.

Essentially, Still Winning does find Gill ‘winning’ vocally. Unfortunately, even given some traditionally great songwriters (Troy Taylor, Bryan-Michael Cox, etc.), some of the songwriting results are mixed or unimpressive. If Still Winning were only about Gill’s commanding vocals, there would be no issue. However, hoping for a quicker release of his seventh solo album, one hopes that Gill’s songwriters develop better material for him to work with.

Brent Faulkner
The Urban Music Scene