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Sounds like … a combination of top-flight R&B similar to Mary J. Blige, plus production resembling the work of Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Lil Wayne, and T-PainAt a glance … first-rate production values and a talent for innovation continue to position Mary Mary at the very forefront of urban gospelTrack Listing Intro The Sound Get Up Superfriend God in Me Boom I'm Runnin' Forgiven Me Dirt Seattle I Worship You It Will All Be Worth It
It's been almost a decade since Mary Mary broke all kinds of records with their debut album Thankful, but don't think for a moment they're of the mindset to stop and rest on their laurels. All the way back to their breakout single "Shackles," they've displayed a knack for breaking from convention—the song, with its worshipful bent and no-nonsense hip-hop beat, is almost singlehandedly responsible for giving birth to urban gospel as a viable subgenre.
Though Mary Mary only has four previous albums to their credit, they still operate like seasoned veterans—calling the shots, pushing themselves creatively, and experimenting with styles that aren't the norm even in secular music. And the duo also owes much to longtime producer Warryn Campbell for it. In more ways than one, he's the duo's invisible third member—without him, the ladies would just be sisters Erica and Tina Campbell.
The Sound finds the Campbells continuing to set the bar ridiculously high. Even the disc's title could seem a bit pretentious, as if somehow the sisters wanted to make a statement on the very state of music in 2008. That's actually not too big a stretch: The Sound is the most progressive urban disc to come out of Christian and gospel music in 2008, and possibly even mainstream music.
It's unclear how they do it, but look no further than the title track for a wild and jaw-dropping Technicolor ride that would sound more at home on an Austin Powers film soundtrack than on an urban gospel disc. Yet the quirkiness works, setting the tone for the disc faster than you can say, "Yeah, baby!"
Just when you think Mary Mary couldn't possibly hit you over the head any harder, they knock you unconscious with first single "Get Up," a top-to-bottom club banger with ethereal verses, dizzying horns, and an empowering message about not conforming to the status quo. The song is so rhythmic it's currently on the rise on Billboard's dance charts, on top of its gospel and urban runs.
The first half is almost exclusively skewed to the urban contingent that Mary Mary has consistently catered to. Perhaps the most genuinely urban track on The Sound is the collaboration with Kierra "KiKi" Sheard, a mid-tempo jam with a head-nodding beat and an insistent hook that could get stuck on your head for days.
Even when the sisters slow it down a little bit, they refuse to play it safe. In the more vertical stretch of The Sound, songs like "I'm Runnin'" and "Forgiven" take advantage of Mary Mary's predilection for '70s R&B, featuring swirling strings, soft horns, and warm drum cadences that recall Motown's heyday. Later, "Seattle" and "I Worship You" flow right into each other for a seamless worship session—the former a prayer that asks the Holy Spirit to fall like rain on America's Emerald City, the latter a simple song of adoration.
To an extent, there's a certain youngness to a couple of the songs that somehow belies Mary Mary's ear for style and innovation. The crunk anthem "Superfriend" is the worst offender, with its blaring fake horns, plodding cadence, and an unimpressive cameo from Southern emcee David Banner. Then there's the happy-go-lucky "Boom," a sunny number that sounds like a b-side to the sisters' much superior 2005 single "Heaven."
Outside those two tracks The Sound is an undisputed triumph. Some may be disappointed that the gospel music quotient is kept at bay in favor of more modern sounds, but that's always been Mary Mary's core approach. If anything, The Sound amplifies their potential for reaching beyond stylistic boundaries, deepening the creative well from which they draw, and setting a new standard of excellence in urban and gospel music. Mary Mary knows how to do it right. Newcomers, take copious notes.