Dawkins & Dawkins - From Now On

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    When brothers Eric and Anson Dawkins left the band of the iconic gospel group Commissioned in 1992, they took more than experience from their time with such singers as Fred Hammond and Marvin Sapp. The Dawkins brothers took their elders’ vocal style and inflections; only the lighter-voiced youngins made the sound underneath even hipper and fresher than their titans, men known for keeping with their musical times. At that time, the vocal doppelgangers were newly minted as Dawkins & Dawkins and hit the contemporary gospel scene as rivals to the then young peers Men of Standard for the mantle of the hip hop generation’s answer to Commissioned and the Winans. Three albums later, culminating in a near-perfect project in 1998 with their Billboard Top 10 Gospel album, Focus, Dawkins & Dawkins were gone.

    When brothers Eric and Anson Dawkins left the band of the iconic gospel group Commissioned in 1992, they took more than experience from their time with such singers as Fred Hammond and Marvin Sapp. The Dawkins brothers took their elders’ vocal style and inflections; only the lighter-voiced youngins made the sound underneath even hipper and fresher than their titans, men known for keeping with their musical times. At that time, the vocal doppelgangers were newly minted as Dawkins & Dawkins and hit the contemporary gospel scene as rivals to the then young peers Men of Standard for the mantle of the hip hop generation’s answer to Commissioned and the Winans. Three albums later, culminating in a near-perfect project in 1998 with their Billboard Top 10 Gospel album, Focus, Dawkins & Dawkins were gone. Lovers of hits like “Wrapped Up” and “Need to Know” were left on a high note, breathless for more of a different sound the brothers’ coined “Rhythm & Praise.” For those left in waiting, the return of Dawkins & Dawkins after a thirteen-year absence from recording is a prayer answered. But, is it? 

    Leaving a scene for more than a decade and planning a comeback can be tricky for maturing artists, even in gospel. Luckily (or is it “Blessedly"?), at least one half of Dawkins & Dawkins, Eric, has been firmly entrenched in the ever-changing music scene as a much sought-after producer and songwriter for such talents as  Tank, Tyrese, Chris Brown, Christina Aguilera, among others. Anson Dawkins has taken a less secular path, becoming a pastor and family man in Tacoma, Washington. Accordingly, the inspirational messages of From Now On are still very God-centered while the overall sound is current without trying too hard to fully mimic the kinds of radio ready productions Eric Dawkins might conjure for a Chris Brown. For good and “meh,” with blazers like the Billboard Gospel Top 20 lead single, “Get Down,” and lukewarmers like “This Praise is For You,” the dynamic duo pick right back up where they left off with their trademark Rhythm & Praise sound as if it were just a few years since Focus, instead of an industry age.

    Together their voices in harmony are identical to what they always were: fluid, melisma-rich instruments whose dexterity inspired awe in a generation of men for whom Dawkins & Dawkins signature approach can be traced, including peers like J. Moss. Similar to Moss, what the brothers lack in range, they make up for in skill, distinctive phrasing, emotive tones, and eternally moving vocal production intricacies. Consummate harmonists, Dawkins & Dawkins also demonstrate a knack for melody as demonstrated by such sinewy rides as “Ordinary,” “I’m Just Sayin’” and the hooky “Best Man,” produced by Warren “Baby-Dub” Campbell (Mary Mary). Throughout, the urgency and passion in their voices make everything feel immediate and fully present, especially on the pop rock “Can You Hear Me,” the album’s most organic, live music recording.

    Generally speaking, most of what Dawkins & Dawkins manages to do on all their albums - and From Now On is no exception - is make listeners feel good with bright, melodic, highly arranged compositions that are long on hook and hip hop production tracks, but simple in inspirational, sometimes rebuking, messages.

    Even on an album as feel-good as this one, there are issues that are not easily side-stepped. Lyrically, as songwriters, they are inconsistent, particularly for mature artists at this stage in their career. For every brilliant celebration of the devout meek like “Ordinary” or timely chastisement of Christendom judgment (“Pray for Me”), there is a trite “Like Him.” They are not further aided on cuts like “He Said” by a long-running diction issue and a run-heavy vocal approach that does not always allow for a listener's easy discernment of their message, a problem for a gospel album meant to educate as well as inspire. Because the Dawkins brothers are performers who can actually sing these songs, bewildered listeners may be all the more distracted by the slight presence of auto-tune overlays coating their favorite brothers’ otherwise warm tone. This all too frequent modern production choice is meant to give the brothers’ stellar pipes an added sheen, and it does admittedly help their voices pop out against these often ‘80s inspired, synth-heavy hip hop tracks. Thankfully, the largely self-produced album doesn’t allow the vocal effect to take on the robotic sound that too often chills contemporary R&B and gospel productions into sounding inhuman.

    It’s difficult not to compare Dawkins & Dawkins to their elders, Fred Hammond and Marvin Sapp, when songs like “Back” could be viewed as a pleasing, equally resonating update on the nostalgic message of Commissioned’s “Running Back to You.” But, make no mistake about it, after taking a gander at the last solo albums for their former Commission brethren, a listen to From Now On proves Dawkins & Dawkins are definitely their own men with a freshly modern, uniquely pleasing take on the “good news.” Here’s to hoping they spread it on more albums for eager saints and sinners alike for many years to come. Recommended.

    By L. Michael Gipson