It’s relatively easy to build a track list around a single song when you’ve got the kind of talent in the studio that gospel singer Mariea E. Watkins does, but to form an entire album full of quality material is a lot harder than it sounds. Watkins’ official debut, appropriately titled The Gospel for a couple of different reasons, shows us that her depth isn’t limited to a few pretty verses, but instead spread out across the whole of a composition if for no other reason than to drive a point home to us when and where we need it most. Her abilities are something to marvel at, as is her melodic command of the music in every song here.
The compositional diversity of The Gospel might be a bit of an afterthought in comparison to the formidable execution that Watkins is putting forth as a vocalist, but it’s still a major factor in how we’re made to appreciate this content. Watkins had the choice to go big with “Clap Your Hands,” “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” and “The Gospel Truth,” or to stick with something rather predictable and minimalist, as a lot of her closest rivals have been doing around the underground lately, and I’m glad she went with the former over the latter. There’s so much more within her sound to be explored by presenting with some indulgence, and it undoubtedly makes a lot of this material even more accessible to the audience than it would have been originally.
Soul is a cornerstone of this record’s brilliance, especially in the case of songs like “Fly” and “The Great I Am,” both of which put Watkins’ skillset as a communicator to the test. Even when she’s got a player like Seanie Ranz in the studio with her, there’s no arguing over who is commanding the most attention from the audience, and it’d because of the personality that Watkins is sewing into every word she croons. She’s got abilities that scores of her competition would love to poach for themselves, but in all actuality, these are qualities that cannot be taught to any student, no matter how disciplined the pupil might be. They’re blessings, and this is a singer who is using them to her advantage.
If this is just her debut as a player, one is inclined to wonder just how good Mariea E. Watkins is going to be at this whole LP business once she gets a little more time and experience under her belt on the stage and in the studio. She’s been coming up on gospel fans’ radars for a couple of years now thanks to her golden pipes, but this is an opportunity for listeners to get a more complete look into her talents, especially as they’re put to work across nine really unique and nuanced compositions. The Gospel gets us where it counts for something, and considering the lackluster pop it’s coming up against this spring, it’s all the more a diamond in the rough.
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