Thirty-something Californian soul sisters Erica Atkins-Campbell and Trecina “Tina” Atkins-Campbell are more familiar to gospel music fans in the guise of devotional performing duo, Mary Mary, who along with Be Be & Ce Ce Winans, Sounds Of Blackness and Kirk Franklin, have been instrumental in exposing contemporary black US sacred music to a wider audience (they’ve also widened the musical parameters of inspirational music as well). The duo owes much of its success to producer Warryn Campbell (who’s now actually married to Erica), and who, in the late-’90s, negotiated a songwriting/publishing deal for the sisters with EMI, which resulted in their songs appearing on the movie soundtracks ‘Dr. Dolittle’ and ‘The Prince Of Egypt.’ A major label deal with Columbia followed, resulting in the girls’ debut platter, ‘Thankful,’ in 2000 which achieved platinum sales and yielded the infectious crossover chart smash, ‘Shackles.’ Eight years on and the duo returns with its fifth long player, ‘The Sound.’ Given the sisters’ track record of scoring big hit singles and best selling albums, ‘The Sound’ understandably oozes confidence and comes across like the work of two people who are supremely comfortable with what they’re doing and know exactly where they want to go. The Christian message remains at the central core of the girls’ hook-laden music, despite a variety of musical settings provided by producer, Warryn Campbell – ranging from the ’60s pop pastiche of the zesty title track to the edgy R&B of ‘Superfriend’ featuring Born Again rapper, David Banner. In between you’ll find anthemic, lighter-waving ballads (‘Forgiven Me’), catchy retro-style beats (the excellent ‘Get Up’ and the Jackson-Five-ish, Motown-esque ‘Boom’), and addictive vocoder-led beat ballads, the latter exemplified by the hypnotically infectious ‘God In Me’. In fact ‘God In Me’ is the only track that is overtly religious – all the rest have ambivalent lyrics that could have a secular meaning as well as a spiritual one. And that fact is perhaps the key to Mary Mary’s crossover appeal – they don’t ram religion down their listeners’ throats. Having said that, anyone looking for uplifting spiritual messages can find them here in abundance if they scratch beyond the surface. All in all, ‘The Sound’ proves to be a strong, cohesive and soulful set and because of that is well-worth investigating.