Wednesday, 27 January 2010

6: Mary Mary - Shackles (Praise You)

Erica Campbell and Tina Atkins are probably the least famous act to appear in my list, yet they have probably been the premiere act in their genre for the past decade. The genre in question would be best described as urban gospel, and it has earned the sisters two Grammys, book-ending the decade (in 2000, for this song, and in 2009 for their latest album). Few other acts have managed to take the spiritually-uplifting traditions of gospel, and convert it into a chart-friendly sound.

The song did receive some criticism for being too modern and not staying true to its gospel roots. But read the lyrics and whilst they can be interpreted in many different ways, the key themes are those of faith, hope, and religious belief, the central tenets of gospel music.

The song's subject is how faith can help you overcome the "shackles" that make life difficult, and how we should be thankful to our chosen deity for giving us that strength. I'm starting to sound like a preacher now, so I'll leave you in Mary Mary's more-than-capable hands. "Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance, I just wanna praise you, I just wanna praise you. You broke the chains now I can lift my hands, and I'm gonna praise you, I'm gonna praise you."

The vocals are predictably superb, as one would hope, from a gospel-based group, never more so than at the end of the first verse, as the girls display their full range to sing "cause you see I've been down for so long, feel like the hope is gone, but as I lift my hands, I understand, that I should praise you through my circumstance."

But more surprising is that the tune managed to achieve crossover status into the R'n'B and even pop markets (it reached #5 in the UK singles chart). Back in my DJ-ing days, I always found 'Shackles (Praise You)' to be a surefire floor-filler. It wasn't even that big a hit, yet everyone seemed to love it. And I do too.

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