Mary Mary - Mary Mary (2005)

Mary Mary
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After a 3-year hiatus, it's great to hear Mary Mary again.  I continue to believe that their 2000 debut album was a turning point for contemporary Gospel and is still one of that genre's best CDs this decade.  But ironically, while one the most appealing elements of that album was its progressive approach to Gospel music, on the new Mary Mary the Campbell sisters hit their highest points by looking backward.  Nowhere is this more evident than on "Biggest, Greatest Thing," a surprising, well-performed swing-era style cut which could have been pulled from an Andrews Sisters performance, circa 1940.  The remainder of the excellent front half of the album is firmly rooted in the 70s, with nods to disco ("The Real Party") and bluesy soul a la Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue"("Yesterday").  However, the disc's best moment is on the first single, "Heaven," a transformation of the Honey Cone's "Want Ads" into a joyous proclamation of faith.  Lyrically the album (especially on the opening cut "Believer") follows the simple but powerful theme of finding faith even without directly seeing God, instead finding God's presence in the people and events that surround us.

The disc loses a bit of steam on the second half, with a number of pleasant but less interesting cuts, before finishing strongly with the beautiful ballad "Speak to Me."

A lot of good things have happened in contemporary Gospel since Mary Mary released Thankful, with the emergence of exciting new artists such as Tonex, Kierra Kiki Sheard, Deitrick Haddon and Smokie Norful.  However, their new self-titled album happily brings Erica and Tina Campbell back into the mix, reminding us of the accessible, joyful sound that they helped introduce in modern Gospel and, ultimately, reminding us of their importance to the genre.  Recommended.