January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

Original Soundtrack Album

With holy rock and rollers like Kirk Franklin and dc Talk racking up CD sales in the millions, God has become one hot musical commodity. So Whitney Houston’s gospel soundtrack to her latest film, The Preacher’s Wife, is perfectly timed. While offering hymns of praise, though, she also seems to be challenging critics who have long accused her of being a soulless, airbrushed ice queen.

For the first time in her 12-year recording career, Houston sounds genuinely moved by her material. Early on she stumbles through the Annie Lennox-penned “Step By Step,” but the presence of the Georgia Mass Choir on six subsequent tracks melts her frosty reserve.

Still, for all of Houston’s newly acquired grit, she’s no Mahalia Jackson. When her gospel-singer mom, Cissy Houston, solos on “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and eight-time Grammy winner Shirley Caesar pops up on “He’s All Over Me,” not only do the older performers blow Whitney away with their authority, but they tempt you to seek out their albums for the gospel truth. (Arista)

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