Is the long-discussed divide between gospel music with a traditional sound versus that with a more contemporary spin still valid? Does it really matter as long as the messages of praise, struggle and uplift are present?
For gospel/R&B stars Mary Mary, their spirit-filled messages are always clear. Although Something Big (Myblock/Columbia) travels mostly in R&B and pop sonic territories, the duo -- sisters Erica and Tina Campbell -- hold firmly to their gospel roots. They are undoubtedly praising Jesus, uplifting him, and encouraging others to do the same. The hit-making siblings, who burst upon the music scene in 2000 with the surprise smash "Shackles (Praise You)," are about as mainstream as urban gospel gets, and their message of hope and faith as tools to overcome life's challenges is as strong as ever.
Mary Mary stays on message throughout the album with their own brand of spiritual elevation, inspiring listeners to count their blessings and never to forget to praise God, and to not be shy about it but to do it big.
The title track opens the album with a raucous, upbeat party vibe; they are shouting their praise of Jesus (the "greatest man in history") to the world. The hit single "Walking" is a straight up R&B song that has really connected at urban adult radio. It speaks to resilience, and to the journeys, spiritual or otherwise, that many may be on currently.
"It Is Well" slows the party down, making the best of bare-bones elements: a lead and mechanical backing vocal. The purity of the lead vocal veers the track to the more traditional sound of praise music. There is a solemn beauty here that highlights the incredible strength of a simple testimony to a higher power. "Catch Me," a pretty pop ditty, explores not being afraid to step out on faith.
For me, the song that packs the most punch here is the glorious "Sitting With Me." Filled with vocal twists and turns, and a good dash of pop flourish, the track tells an emotional story of being ridiculed but still having the conviction to recognize Jesus' love.
A more traditional gospel sound usually appeals to an older audience, but if this sometimes unconventional, R&B/pop sound brings younger audiences to a spirited message, is that a bad thing? I love the fact that the thread running through most of these songs urges listeners to never give up. With everything going on in the world right now -- economically, politically, or on a host of other levels -- the steady encouragement and uplift expressed on Something Big is needed more than ever.
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