THE LORD doesn't always work in mysterious ways. Take Tramaine Hawkins' new album, "The Search Is Over."

On the one hand, it's a gospel album, and doesn't exactly pull its punches. From song titles like "Child of the King" or "I Know Him" to "In the Morningtime," it doesn't take a degree in theology to get Hawkins' drift.

On the other hand, though, it has all the hallmarks of a great R&B album, from soulful singing to red-hot rhythm arrangements. Which is likely to leave the listener wondering, is this a gospel record or an R&B album?

Actually, it's one and the same.

After all, even Jerry Wexler, who coined the phrase "rhythm and blues," acknowledges that the music would have been more accurately described as "gospel and blues," and that's the alchemy at work here. Producer Robert Byron has assembled a crack cast of studio sessionmen -- Eric Gale, Nat Adderley Jr., Jimmy Maelen, Michael Brecker -- and framed Hawkins' voice with slick, insistent rhythm arrangements that firmly ground the groove as her voice reaches for heaven.

As a result, the music is uplifting in every respect, not so much soft-selling salvation but putting it in terms anyone can understand.

And there's nothing mysterious about that.

TRAMAINE HAWKINS -- "The Search is Over" (A&M SP 6-5110); appearing Friday at DAR Constitution Hall.