Sounds of Blackness

The Evolution of Gospel

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Though from beginning to end one of the best gospel albums of its era, The Evolution of Gospel became and remains noteworthy because of three songs in particular: "Optimistic," "The Pressure," and "Testify." These three songs rocketed to the upper reaches of the R&B charts in 1992, all three entering the Top 20 and "Optimistic" peaking at number three -- remarkable numbers for such unashamed gospel music. And these weren't flukes or novelty hits. No, these were amazing songs that captured the spirit of the time, in particular the new jack swing production sound that was all the rage in the early '90s. Furthermore, it didn't hurt that Sounds of Blackness teamed with the hottest production team of the time for these songs, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were in the process of producing Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation at the time. The result was three definitive songs that synthesized Jam and Lewis' incredibly dense rhythms with Sounds of Blackness' uplifting gospel technique. The remainder of the album unfortunately didn't feature Jam and Lewis' production, but group mastermind Gary Hines obviously knew he had a winning formula and stuck with the new jack motifs, even if he's a second-rate Teddy Riley at best. As a further testament to this album's monolithic status, it's important to note that much of this album remains as charged as it did at its prime, while all the other Bobby Browns and Color Me Badds of the time admittedly haven't aged nearly as well. Sounds of Blackness never could duplicate the success of Evolution of Gospel, the undisputed zenith of the group's career.

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