In music such aural conviction is generally born from the survival of trials and tragedy, Marvin is no exception in this respect. Since the album's release, it has been well reported that Marvin lost three important men in his life-his father, his musical mentor and his spiritual father-over one year. The magnitude of the multiple losses gave birth to the self-penned "Never Would Have Made It" and the blues frequently present in Marvin's tone on meditative cuts like the precious hymn, "In the Garden", the somber "Place of Worship" and the declarative "Worshipper in Me." Subtle references to his own faith walk litter the pastor's ministry on "crazy faith", before moving listeners from a feathery opening to an epic choral explosion on the cradling "Praise Him in Advance." Repeatedly themes of maintaining faith and a commitment to worship in spite of circumstances are visited on Thirsty, making this a sorely needed project for those enduring struggle. The title track and the closer, "Rivers Flow," could almost serve as counterpoint bookends to this project, with the first testifying about reaching out to God for sustenance and the other reminding listeners of the sustaining reservoir within.
While it's on the slower cuts that this project excels, there are some truly inspired up-tempo songs of celebration here. On these, Thirsty greatly benefits from Myron Butler's direction of the backing vocalists who support Marvin beautifully with close harmonies and impeccably stylized phrasing steeped in the contemporary gospel tradition. Despite Marvin stepping out of Hammond's shadow on each of Sapp's stunning ballads (in phrasing and cadence the two former quintet mates can be indistinguishable), the influence of Fred's Radical for Christ is apparent on the powerful "Magnify" and "Possess the Land" in swing and approach. Only on the anthem "Shout Unto God" do we hear pure Marvin kicking his heels to the rhythm. Sounding like a fellow icon on the music he does best isn't necessarily bad, but these somewhat familiar, sure-fire bets do draw unnecessary comparisons. The only head scratcher of the project is the up-tempo "Power," a rousing go-go percussion-rich track with a highly melodic lead and several interesting choral transitions, that is sadly compromised by a tepid third quarter call and response vamp that drains the life out of the tune. The misstep is glaring only in that it mars the flawless execution of this thirteen track gold star.
In his seamless fusion of rock, go-go, soul and gospel, Aaron Lindsay has produced an orchestral album that introduces us to Marvin Sapp more on his own terms. While Sapp only wrote one tune and arranged another on Thirsty, his interpretations of these songs are personal, deeply heartfelt and will bless anyone with an ear to hear. Most of these songs bare Sapp's indelible mark. Dip your cup into this loving project and be thirsty no more.
-L. Michael Gipson