Charlie Wilson Wins on ‘In It to Win It’
Uncle Charlie Wilson delivers another consistent, enjoyable adult contemporary R&B album on his eighth album, ‘In It to Win It.’
Charlie Wilson is the model of consistency in R&B music. The former lead vocalist for the Gap Band arguably possesses one of the best voices ever. At 64 years of age, he proves he is still a musical force. The proof? Another fine album, In It to Win It.
Wilson opens In It to Win It thankfully on “I’m Blessed.” The record opens with him testifying about God’s goodness before delivering a stunning, spiritually-driven performance. This is well-rounded, inspiration adult contemporary R&B at its best. Wilson doesn’t tweak the formula, but he doesn’t need to. Is the appearance by T.I. necessary? No, but it gives Uncle Charlie a youthful compadre and proves that the vet can hang with anybody.
“Chills” is another feel-good joint, once more in a major key. Instead of praising God this round, Wilson shifts the script to love. He’s in full-on chivalrous mode.
“Had me feeling like a kid again / Always talking about you to my friends / That’s how I know it’s real / You give me chills / Baby up and down my spine / Everyday you’re looking more and more fine / I put that on a mill, you give me chills.”
The energy of “Good Time” is respectable. Wilson excels in up-tempo, groovy contemporary soul cuts. Is Pitbull the best collaborative fit for the soul singer? Eh. This is familiar fare for the Latin pop rapper, with predictable results. Again, the groove is infectious, and Uncle Charlie’s voice add some redemptive quality.
“Us Trust” gives Wilson his third collaborator of In It to Win It, Wiz Khalifa. Once more an unlikely collaborator, ultimately, Uncle Charlie retains star status in his own right. Vocally, he sounds as fresh as ever, commanding over beautiful adult contemporary R&B production work. “Us Trust” continues a chivalrous script – Wilson doesn’t ruffle any feathers, letting his pipes do the work.
“Precious Love” slackens the pace, giving the soul singer a 6/8 slow jam to do work on. The vocal harmonies pop on the simple, but radiant, chorus. This doesn’t break new ground – it sounds familiar to “My Favorite Part of You” from Forever Charlie – but sounds terrific.
“Smile for Me”
“Smile for Me” gives Uncle Charlie one of his most soulful, exceptional moments from In It to Win It. Paired with neo-soul standout Robin Thicke, “Smile for Me” is simple in concept, but reaps massive benefits of being so simplistic. Essentially, Wilson and Thicke tout the power of a smile and showing resolve through the hardest of times. The vocal chemistry between the two is magnificent – two truly gifted musicians.
On “In It to Win It,” Wilson reflects on the hardships of his childhood – being called names, being told he’d be nothing, and slipping up with drugs. Despite his hardships, he shows his determination to overcome adversity to be his best. Like many songs off of In It to Win It, the title track is uplifting – built upon positive, feel-good vibes. “Dance Tonight” finds him losing his cool a might, following two heavier cuts in “Smile for Me” and “In It to Win It.” This is no departure in the least. Charlie is still Charlie, and who would have it any other way?
“Made for Love”
“Made for Love” pairs two of R&B’s greatest voices. Five-time Grammy winner Lalah Hathaway joins Wilson on this duet that could’ve taken place back in the 80s. Anachronistic? Maybe a smidge, but ultimately, this duet transcends time period. This is well-rounded R&B at its best. He showcases his rhythmic prowess on “Better,” which features an agile melodic line. Accompanied by smooth guitar and bass, he ensures he’s the main attraction.
“Gold Rush” pairs Wilson with his buddy Snoop Dogg. Snoop has appeared with Charlie over the years, including an appearance on Forever Charlie (“Infectious”). Compared to “Made for Love” or “Better,” “Gold Rush” is more youthful – more contemporary. Like “Gold Rush,” Penultimate joint “New Addiction” gives the soul singer a contrasting sound. This sound is still based in soul, but reinfuses some oomph into In It to Win It. Like the album begins, it concludes with giving thanks on “Amazing God.”
All in all, Uncle Charlie has given the world another winning album on In It to Win It. He doesn’t change the formula or rewrite the script, nor did he need to. Honestly, the man could “sing the songbook” and have a solid project on his hands. If anything, Wilson deserves more credit for his masterful vocal performances and sound LPs. In It to Win It is another worthwhile addition to his underrated discography.
Gems: “I’m Blessed,” “Chills,” “Smile for Me” & “Made for Love”