Vibe - 5/94, p.110
"...R&B's merging of the sacred and the profane has become so familiar that the blending of the holy with the historic on AFRICA TO AMERICA is a fresh breath of life for an increasingly stale format....elevates the Sounds to a rare level of transcendence...."
Sounds Of Blackness includes: Gary Hines (conductor); Ann Nesby, Core Cotton, Renee McCall, Shirley Marie Graham, Alecia Russel, Jayn Bell, Patricia Lacy, Geoff Jones, Carrie Harrington, Billy Steele (vocals); Mufundsi Joseph Young (rap); Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis (various instruments); Kevin Pierce (guitar); Jimmy Wright (electric piano, keyboards); Trenon Graham (drums); Stokley (drums, percussion); Jeff Taylor (drum programming).
Producers: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Gary Hines.
Recorded at Flyte Tyme Studios, Edina, Minnesota.
AFRICA TO AMERICA: THE JOURNEY OF THE DRUM includes several traditional black musical styles. It includes a reading from a piece by Langston Hughes and an a cappella version of "Strange Fruit."
Personnel: Sounds of Blackness (vocals, background vocals); Jimmy Wright (vocals, electric piano, organ, keyboards, synthesizer); Billy Steele (vocals, keyboards); Libby Turner, Renee McCall, Carrie Harrington (vocals, background vocals); Shirley Marie Graham, Core Cotton, Eunique Mack, Alecia Russell, Dexter Conyers, Geoffrey Jones, Patricia Lacy, James Smith, Ann Nesby, Robert Anderson (vocals); Rev. Joseph Young, Jr. (rap vocals); Kevin Pierce, LaSalle Gabriel, Nate Sabin (guitar); Robin Berry (harp); Franklin Wharton (alto saxophone); Louis J. Wilson (tenor saxophone); David Wright III (baritone saxophone); Larry Sims (trumpet); Gary Hines (piano, keyboards, drum programming); Jimmy Jam (keyboards, synthesizer, drum programming); Trenon Graham, Stokely (drums, percussion); Marcus Wise (tabla); Kevin Whitlock (percussion); Jeff Taylor (drum programming); Jamecia Bennett (background vocals).
Audio Mixers: David Rideau; Steve Hodge.
Recording information: Flyte Tyme studios, Edina, MN.
Arrangers: Gary Hines; Jimmy Jam; Jimmy Wright; Terry Lewis.
Nothing on Africa to America tops the shining moments -- "Optimistic" and "Testify" -- on Sounds of Blackness' debut, Evolution of Gospel. However, all things considered, Africa to America is probably the better album. And if it's not the better album, it's surely the more consistent of the two. Where Jimmy Jam's and Terry Lewis' efforts were somewhat limited on Evolution of Gospel, with the exception of the album's highlights, the producers devoted themselves to this 1994 follow-up, producing not just a few great songs but rather numerous great songs: "I Believe," "I'm Going All the Way," "Black Butterfly," "Everything Is Going to Be Alright," and "The Harder They Are, the Bigger They Fall," in particular. And while these songs don't depart too far from the potent new jack swing-meets-gospel sound of "Optimistic," that's a good thing -- Jam and Lewis were on top of their game at the time and brought no shortage of their trademark dense percussive rhythms to Africa to America. So, even if the production sounds a little calculated and perhaps even outdated for its time, it made for some amazing songs. It wasn't until subsequent albums that it became evident just how integral Jam and Lewis were to Sounds of Blackness' success. Along with Evolution of Gospel, Africa to America remains the group's pinnacle. With Jam and Lewis, Sounds of Blackness sounded fresh and relevant; without the duo, they sounded like any other gospel group. ~ Jason Birchmeier