- reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2005 1 Jul
- The Biggest Greatest Thing
- The Real Party (Trevon's Birthday)
- Save Me
- What Is This
- Love You That Much
- Stand Still
- And I
- Speak to Me
This year promises to be a big one for gospel music, with Mary Mary's self-titled third album kicking off a wave of heavy-hitters that include upcoming offerings from Yolanda Adams, CeCe Winans, and Kirk Franklin—all acts that have, to an extent, enjoyed some measure of mainstream notoriety in recent years.
Mary Mary, comprised of sisters Erica and Tina Campbell, rose to fame with 2000's
The album wastes no time in asserting itself rhythmically and lyrically. The testimonial "Believer" sets the pace, a stomping dance track with a beat-boxing intro (reminiscent of Timbaland), bottomless bass, and an excellent groove. Even more contagious is the fun-beyond-measure "The Real Party," a fast-paced party song with celebratory horns and a near-disco beat. But the showstopper is first single "Heaven," a joyous banger with a vintage touch that brilliantly uses a sample from the historic hit single "Want Ads" (by '70s R&B trio Honey Cone); it has an old-school Motown feel and vocals that seem borrowed from the Kanye West production stylebook.
If "Heaven" seems like uncharted territory, wait until you hear "The Biggest Greatest Thing," a big-band, Ella Fitzgerald-styled extravaganza where the girls trade the platform shoes for flapper wear and big necklaces. For R&B purists, the song may be totally out of place, but the quality of the vocal interplay and the live instrumentation make you forget you're listening to an urban gospel record. Producer Warryn Campbell subtly reintroduces the essence of this style in "Yesterday," a gorgeous ballad underpinned by brass and string sections, and where Tina and Erica simply kill it vocally.
Later, an almost sinister, one-fingered piano line serves as the basis for "What Is This," a sweet ode of surrender with an unrelenting, pounding foundation. But the greatest surprise of the record comes with "And I," perhaps the most worshipful song the tandem has ever recorded. Kirk Franklin guests on the track, which spares no expense decorating the mid-tempo number with flamenco guitars, sentimental strings, and a pensive rhythmic foothold. It's one of those songs whose melody must be heard to be believed, and the words seem tailor-made for it: "There's a name more powerful words can't describe/When spoken demons tremble/And all creation must bow down."
Though it's an understatement that the sistahs can plain sang, it's even more admirable how they like to keep everything in neatly-packed two-part harmonies. Other duos generally employ multi-tracking or a host of backup singers to compensate for the missing vocal parts, but Mary Mary are more than adequate by themselves. Their church upbringing has also endowed them with something more noteworthy than Beyoncé's erratic falsetto, and that is the ability to transition from silky-smooth R&B singing to dramatic, multi-octave gospel vocalization, sometimes within the same song ("Stand Still," "Save Me").
At only eleven tracks, this is the most concise Mary Mary album yet, but it's also the most consistent. It's true the tunes can be too easily compartmentalized as danceable bangers, medium-speed head-nodders, or slow burners, but none can be considered mere filler. From the sparse "Speak to Me" to the intricately composed "And I," the Campbell sisters and their producers have put great effort into making a record with the potential of turning heads, whether the tunes are aimed at the proverbial choir, the unchurched, or those who simply aren't sure where they belong.