By Debra Akins for GospelMusicChannel.com
Some would say that the true test of greatness in an artist is how well they can remain musically relevant and new over an extended period of time. Longevity is hard to come by in today's music industry, so those who can achieve it have done so by discovering how to connect with an audience over and over again. It's a formula that urban gospel duo Mary Mary has mastered more than once, and they've done it again with their newest Columbia/Integrity release The Sound.
Shattering all expectations is something that real-life sisters Tina and Erica Campbell do well. They exploded onto the music scene in 2000, breaking numerous records with their smash dance hit "Shackles," from their award-winning debut disc, Thankful. Since then, these talented singer/songwriters have released a series of recordings that have continued to raise the bar in contemporary gospel and mainstream R&B circles.
The Sound is the first new full-length, non-seasonal album since the duo's 2005 self-titled project (A Mary Mary Christmas released in 2006). Long-time producer Warryn Campbell (Erica's husband) can be credited with much of the creative freshness that exudes from this fifth album, as he seems to be able to find the perfect balance between the gospel themes and some of the most innovative, modern arrangements of R&B, urban, hip-hop and electronic styles we've heard in a long time.
Even the album's title cut is a mind-blowing example of how progressive this album really is. A psychedelic, synth-driven retro piece that seems lifted from a '60s spy film, "The Sound" is quite possibly one of the coolest and wildest tracks Mary Mary has ever recorded. And if you love that one, you'll also enjoy the album's first single "Get Up," a brilliant, rhythmic romp that will become a favorite club banger. The song's empowering message and explosive tempo already has it rising up Billboard's dance, gospel and urban charts.
Other highlights include "I'm Runnin'," which channels a little '70s Motown, and the mid-tempo, guitar-laced "Dirt," which carries a simple but timeless message that applies to folks on either side of the spiritual divide ("We all need a little bit of dirt to grow"). "Growing up, we didn't look at people who didn't go to church any differently from those who did," Erica says. "When it comes to our music, it is for everyone. Everyone needs to know that God love them."
And while the music tries to steal the spotlight on this project, the sisters' impressive vocals and sense of melody cannot be overshadowed here. They stand out on numbers like the introspective "Seattle," a beautiful song of adoration that asks God to descend upon our souls the same way rain falls on the Emerald City. The worshipful ballad "I Trust You" features the smooth vocals of Marvin Winans.
All in all, Tina and Erica deserve the attention that befalls their mainstream counterparts like Rihanna and Mary J. Blige. But whether or not they get it, this duo has simply surpassed all of their previous efforts with The Sound, and that's saying a lot. They are continually setting new standards for artistic greatness, and this album has only solidified their lead in that regard.
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