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Soundtrack Short Of Heaven-Sent

Original soundtrack album “The Preacher’s Wife” Whitney Houston (Arista)

After Whitney Houston’s third album, 1990’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” failed to match the huge success of her previous two CDs, she recorded popular soundtracks for her movies (“The Bodyguard,” “Waiting to Exhale”), and her career soared heavenward once again.

“The Preacher’s Wife,” the soundtrack for her newest film, features commercial pop in the vein of her “Bodyguard” material to excite the faithful.

The first single, “I Believe in You and Me,” is the precise kind of big ballad in which Houston excels, but it’s not particularly memorable.

Ditto “You Were Loved” and “My Heart Is Calling” (a slightly funky pop tune written by the ubiquitous Babyface).

“Step by Step,” a punchy dance/ pop number written by Annie Lennox, is better by far and its bass-rumbling remix seems a natural for clubs.

But “The Preacher’s Wife” is ultimately the gospel album Houston has said she was born to make and so the stakes are higher.

Eight of the 15 tracks are steeped in tradition and gospel music is where Houston says she feels “most comfortable.”

Houston sings the heck out of the material and she has the voice for it.

With backing help from the Georgia Mass Choir, the CD comes to life on the swinging “I Go to the Rock,” “Joy” and “Hold On, Help Is On the Way.”

But while Houston has that powerful, honey-barbecue voice suited to potent, feel-it-down-deep gospel music, “The Preacher’s Wife” still comes up a tad short.

The performances lack that certain something - feeling, maybe? - the hand-clapping music demands.

Curiously, nothing contains the emotional epiphany Houston delivered on her secular 1990 hit “All the Man That I Need.”

“The Preacher’s Wife” comes on the heels of much-hyped releases by pop divas Madonna (“Evita”) and Barbra Streisand (“The Mirror Has Two Faces”).

Artistically, Houston falls between the two - surprisingly, Madonna’s is the most satisfying vocal performance of the bunch.

Houston’s powerful pipes don’t knock us out the way they should on this good, but not extraordinary, gospel/pop album.


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