If you listen to their debut album "Thankful" with your ears and not your heart, Mary Mary doesn't differ much from other R&B girl groups on the radio. It's the twentysomething twosome's lyrics that sets "Thankful" apart from the monotonous drivetime drone. Mary, Mary, whose "Shackles (Praise You)" has hit #12 on Billboard's singles chart, is the charter act of a category Columbia Records is calling "R&B gospel": music that infuses the energy of urban music into traditional gospel. On "Thankful," the organ chords found in gospel hymns are replaced by the thumping beats of hip-hop drum machines.

The daughters of an Evangelic preacher from Inglewood, California, Erica and Trecina Atkins bring new energy to the traditional hymns "What A Friend" and "Wade in the Water," and the songs they wrote or co-wrote for the album--the title track and the reflective "Still My Child"--spread the word of God's goodness with smooth harmony. But it is the mix of soul-stirring lyrics and rhythm-and-blues melodies on songs like " Joy" and "Shackles (Praise You) " that make you want to dance.

Mary Mary suffers the pitfalls of any good pep-rally; the message is often lost in repetitive melodies and the plain contagiousness of the music. Missing completely are the slow traditional spirituals that define gospel. But as an attempt to inspire souls through dance music, "Thankful" places Mary Mary firmly in fellowship with highly decorated gospel artists Kirk Franklin and Trin-i-tee 5:7 in the fight for the soul of the hip-hop generation.

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