For fans of modern gospel pioneer Edwin Hawkins, the arrival of "Love Is the Only Way," his first solo album in a decade, marks a happy day indeed. And lest others have forgotten his initial claim to fame, the album contains two updated versions of his ensemble's surprising 1969 hit, "Oh Happy Day." Granted, neither packs the exultant power of original recording, but the new arrangements -- one geared for urban contemporary airplay, the other a club dance remix -- indicate that Hawkins hasn't fallen behind the R&B curve.
Clearly, Hawkins has been encouraged by some of his own younger disciples such as Kirk Franklin, who've managed to sing the Lord's praises without being confined to traditional forms of expression. While there's some old-fashioned testifying here -- just listen to Hawkins's sister, Lynette Hawkins Stephens, rock the pews on "Another Day" or Lawrence Matthews cut loose on "Don't Forget to Pray" -- the emphasis on contemporary grooves should allow Hawkins to reach a broader audience without undermining his spiritual mission.
As in the past, Hawkins demonstrates a keen ear for talent as well. Complementing his warm vocals are four singers -- Stephens, Matthews, Dita Jackson and Brenda Roy -- who help layer and enliven some of the best tracks, allowing gospel and soul music to happily commingle.
Appearing Saturday at the National Church of God, 6400 Bock Rd. in Oxon Hill with Lynette Hawkins Stephens, Tramaine Hawkins, Daniel Hawkins, Walter Hawkins and the Love Center Choir, Shirley Miller, Yvette Flunder, Brenda Roy and Bryant Pugh & Friends. For tickets, call 800/521-0290. To hear a free Sound Bite from Edwin Hawkins, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)