Mary Mary

Today's CD racks of urban Gospel are stuffed with enough choice to make your head dizzy and your eyes water.

So, what does it take to stand out? Snazzy cover art? Intriguing name? Unusual group composition? Mary Mary has all these qualities — there's no doubt about that. But on hearing Mary Mary CDtheir project, you very quickly realize that the duo have a lot more going on here than just superficials.

Sisters Erica and Tina Atkins (Mary Mary) are quite simply the complete musical 'real deal'. Gifted with an awesome anointing that is revealed in their songwriting, their vocals and their delivery, they go far beyond technical artistry, and truly need to be experienced to be understood.

There's no lyrical ambiguity on this project, as Jesus Christ is unabashedly confessed. Even the sweet sound of the grooves they concoct seem to have purpose. The world might raise their hands to pump a fist to these beats, and while they're up there, catch themselves giving Him the praise (see interview).

While the styles on the thirteen-cut debut are diverse, they easily flow together from track to track. Dance rhythms emerge on the groovy title track, and hip-hop sensibilities effortlessly push their way through on "I Sing" (complete with a smooth rap cameo from Gospel hip-hop's fast-rising star, B.B. Jay). Warryn Campbell is behind the production board on nearly every song, so give him props —lots of props. The song sequencing on the album stands out as masterful as well.

Racing up radio charts across multiple formats, racking up spins, and even adopted as the entry anthem for boxer Michael Grant, "Shackles (Praise You)" is the keyboard-riddled and catchy lead single on Thankful. Picking that cut must have been harder than choosing only one chocolate bar from a corner store's inventory, because there's plenty of equal quality here.

For example, "Wade in the Water". Soulful and contemporary, this take on the beloved spiritual comes complete with Mary Mary an incredibly heart-thumping bass line performed by Andrew Gouché, and a ingeneous mix of fender rhodes, organ and heavy guitar riffs. Chorus work comes courtesy of a tight ensemble that includes names such as Eric Dawkins, Keisha Ealy and Chris Bolton.

The duo know how to sing a ballad, and there's a few on this album, such as "Be Happy" or "One Minute". But the killer is "Still My Child", which possesses an overpowering beauty. With vocals wrapped in soft live strings orchestrated by maestro Jerry Peters and performed by Charles Veal's orchestral collective, they swell with every emotion offered to heaven in a conversational lyricism that is at the same time masterful and moving.

You'll find a guest appearance from Destiny's Child on "Good 2 Me". With a funky beat, intriguing production effects and thanks-filled lyrics, it's a 6-voice ride to remember.

Also noteworthy is the millenial interpretation of James Cleveland's "No Ways Tired", which goes under the name "Can't Give Up Now". Tina and Erica recruited a bunch of their friends to form the choir that accompanies them on the cut, which transforms into a stomping, nearly accapella clap-fest by the time it winds down.

Simply put, Mary Mary has set a whole new standard for Gospel. This project is a masterpiece.

Producer: Warryn Campbell
album release date: May 2, 2000
Columbia / Myrrh

reviewed by Stan North

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