“The Gospel” by Mariea E. Watkins
To make a really spellbinding gospel record, you’ve got to have a way with words that exceeds the limitations that a lot of faith-based content meets. Mariea E. Watkins doesn’t want to recycle themes or verses in her new album The Gospel; contrarily, she’s seeking to tell us personal stories through a theme of spirituality and faith in God, which takes a bit more poetic skill than a lot of her peers are able to bring into the studio with them. Top to bottom, The Gospel is a standard-setter, and a record I’m glad I picked up this May.
When I first listened to the title cut in The Gospel, as well as “The Gospel Truth,” “Fly,” and the stirring opener “Clap Your Hands,” I was immediately intrigued by the live potential this material has, largely because of the way that Watkins is presenting it to us in the studio. Even though she’s enclosed within four creatively constrictive walls, she’s playing like she’s got a packed house in front of her, and her relentlessness comes through the speakers rather seamlessly, all things considered. You can’t stifle a talent this strong, and as much is made obvious to us in this amazing tracklist.
“Redeemed” and “Pray,” the latter of which features Jacob Barnett in a memorable guest role, are the best examples of Watkins’ constant control over a narrative, whether she’s sharing the studio or owning the mic all by herself. On her own, she’s made to direct the arrangement like a bandleader, but when she’s with other vocalists her prominence as a poetic force to be reckoned with becomes all the harder to ignore, let alone dispute. This is quite the incendiary selection of songs in this regard, and more than enough to confirm her place in the indie hierarchy of gospel musicians right now.
Watkins’ credible supporting cast in The Gospel includes Seanie Ranz, Mzansi Youth Choir, Robert Henderson II, Chadwick Watkins, as well as AngelTheStar, and despite there being a lot of features here I think it’s clear how personal all of this material is to the leading woman at the helm of the project. She’s never in the background for a second here, but instead leading a charge that gets stronger with each passing track. On stage or in the studio, I think her personality drives a lot of these compositions forward, which is half the game of developing star-quality skills.
I find The Gospel to be a really inviting listen that’s as accessible to gospel genre newcomers as it is to the longtime audience that has kept this style of music as popular as it has been into the 21st century, and it’s all because of the charisma Mariea E. Watkins has as a player. She lights the wick on this tracklist right out of the gate, and if she’s able to continue making content as engrossing as all nine of these songs are, I believe she’s going to have a hard time staying contained within this typically insular scene.