On the cover of her latest album, Day By Day, the stunning Yolanda Adams is nowhere in sight. The serene picture looks like something out of an Ethan Allen catalog: a tight shot of a stylish cream-colored sofa in a sun-splashed loft.
"The couch symbolizes taking it one day at a time, sitting down with some tea and talking with someone," says the platinum-selling gospel star, who's calling from a promotional stop in Atlanta. "The album is like a one-on-one conversation."
Flip the CD case and there's Adams - elegant, smile aglow - posing on the couch. The bright, relaxed album art is indicative of the music inside. Her seventh studio set, Day By Day is among the artist's best releases. Though she worked with several producers, including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Kirk Franklin and Mike City, the 12-track CD is refreshingly focused, consistent and free of lyrical piety.
"It's vintage Yolanda," says the Grammy-winning artist, who performs at Israel Baptist Church on Saturday night. "It's not too different from what I've done before. But it's important to keep growing now that people know me and the music."
For more than a decade, the former Texas schoolteacher has been one of the most visible, biggest-selling acts in gospel. Tall with intense eyes, chiseled cheekbones and a sophisticated sense of fashion, Adams extends the tradition of "gospel glamour" that Clara Ward started back in the early '50s.
Her music also pushes the boundaries. Along with contemporary gospel acts such as Franklin and CeCe Winans, Adams and her producers use elements of pop, funk, hip-hop, jazz and R&B to deliver "the good news." The artist's music is often heard on urban stations alongside secular artists.
"To be effective, to touch people's lives, you have to reach people wherever they are," says Adams, 43. "That could be in the car, at work, on the dance floor, wherever."
Her debut, Just As I Am, was released in 1988. The artist released six more albums before breaking through to the mainstream with 1999's Mountain High ... Valley Low. Her first CD for Elektra Records, the set sold nearly 2 million copies, spurred by the ubiquitous urban radio hit, "Open My Heart." The moving, self-penned ballad was produced by Jam and Lewis. With its lush strings and knowing background vocals, the arrangement recalled Luther Vandross' early romantic productions. That may partly explain why the song was often heard on Quiet Storm stations.
A Christmas set and a concert album were released before Elektra issued the proper follow-up to Mountain High: 2001's Believe. Though it reached gold sales, the album was lackluster. The singer's warm, soaring vocals were placed in rote, formulaic arrangements. The album was also lyrically vapid and produced no hits.
Around this time, Adams gave birth to her first child, Taylor Ayanna, who often travels with the singer. Though she refuses to discuss it, Adams recently divorced Taylor's father, former NFL player Tim Crawford. The gospel star says that through her ministry of music she reveals enough of herself.
"I feel like if I've gone through it, somebody has gone through it too," Adams says. "So I use myself and the experiences I've been through to communicate the message in the music."
With her powerfully nuanced style - check the vibrant cuts "Victory," "Better Than Gold" and "Alwaysness" - that message of spiritual transcendence shines through on Day By Day. The album is her first in four years.
What took so long?
"We had back-to-back tours happening and the buyout of [Elektra by Atlantic Records]," Adams explains. "You don't want an album out when the company is in limbo. So we waited. And I'm glad we did because the album came out right before Hurricane Katrina. People needed the music."
Never compromising her glorious sound, Adams stretches her music ministry on Day By Day.
"I extend it by showing in the songs how people can deal with tragedy and life and death and get through it," she says. "At the end, you always come out victorious through God."
Yolanda Adams performs at Israel Baptist Church, E. Preston and N. Washington streets, on Saturday night. The show, which starts at 7:30, is sold out.