They weren’t freakin’ you. They didn’t ask to be your part-time lover. Nor were they saying goodbye to yesterday.
Take 6 may not have been in the public eye with the same intensity as 90s-era rulers Jodeci and Boyz II Men, but the Alabama a cappella titans’ impact has been just as potent over a longer period, and definitely more consistent.
With incomparably malleable six-part harmonies that contort to any style, the group won Grammys and Dove Awards with a dozen studio albums. Whether lending their talents to Quincy Jones, Whitney Houston or Justin Timberlake, Take 6 has worked to deeply touch the souls of all who hear them. Their brand new album, Believe, is another stellar combination of songs that tackle love and faith via intertwining vocals that uplift and entertain.
Take 6 has always had one foot in the spiritual world and one in the secular. Since their 1988 debut, they’ve had 24 Grammy nominations in four genres; gospel, jazz, R&B and pop – winning 10 in three. Claude McKnight, one of the founding members, says it’s all one and the same. “We didn’t look at it as secular versus sacred,” McKnight told JET. “On this album, it was important that we write songs that made sense for us based on our own personal experience. Sometimes that experience is a spiritual one, and we try to incorporate spirituality into all of it. But as a love song, whether it’s a people song or it’s a song that can be an anthem for what’s going on the world.”
They achieved creating such an anthem with “When Angels Cry,” which includes some of their most poignant lyricism to date.
“Angels cry when innocence is shattered,
When the love for your brother no long matter,
No our faith is on the crown,
The house of God is burning down,
And we’re standing the ashes of our shame.”
McKnight stated that the song was a direct reflection on several church bombings, police and terrorist attacks overseas. “What could we write about that speaks to this, and not just specifically, and we say ‘when angels cry,’ we say, oh, they’re watching us’ they’re here to protect,” he explains. “They must be crying for the state of man. That’s what that song was about.”
Balancing the album were songs like “Statistic” and “You Know You’re in Love” which both speak of the honest longing that comes with falling hard for someone. The latter includes a special guest appearance from Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Wonder and Take 6 have made magic together in the past various times, and McKnight attributes their successful working relationship to genuine friendship. “We’ve known him from the beginning of our careers, so he’s like a big brother to us,” McKnight explained. “Any time he calls and wants him on his projects, we do it. Any time we call and want him, he does it as well.”
Friendship also has been a key component to Take 6’s longevity. The group’s only had two member changes in over 30 years. “We really like each other and respect each other,” said McKnight. “I think when you have a group, if there’s a lack of respect, if you let things fester when you have problems, that’s where groups break up. But we’ve been together a long time, and so we trust each other.”
Whether this album helps mend faltering faith or cope with unrequited love, Take 6 wants listeners to walk away with affirmation. “What I mean by that is Believe in something,” McKnight explains of the title. “Believe in love, believe in the Lord, believe in the goodness of man, believe in what it is that takes you to another day, a better way.”
Matthew Allen is a Brooklyn-based broadcast professional and music journalist whose work can be found in The Village Voice, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. Follow Allen on Twitter @headphoneaddict, and visit his music blog, The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict.