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Stone Soul 2019: Mario

Source: courtesy of Empire

One of music’s most memorable and innovative voices is finally back! Mario first gained national attention as the teen singing sensation behind hits such as “Just a Friend 2002” and “Let Me Love You.”

Now Mario is ready to reclaim his role as a standard-bearer of contemporary R&B/pop with Dancing Shadows, the recording artist’s first album since 2009. Arriving late fall of 2018, the set was released on Mario’s New Citizen label in partnership with EMPIRE.

Prefacing Mario’s return is the lead single, “Drowning.” Says Mario of his impending return, “This whole process has been about discovering myself as a creative then learning how to translate who I am and who I’m becoming as a man through music. I’m coming back with a different perspective in my writing, music and vocal expression—and with a lot more to say.” That’s quite evident after one listens to “Drowning.” The mid-tempo track finds a more introspective Mario confessing the still-strong feelings he harbors for his ex-girlfriend and his sexual attraction welling up inside for another woman.


One thing that hasn’t changed? Mario’s effortless transition from ethereal tenor to sweet falsetto as he implores, “Please stop me from drowning.” Describing himself as a “control freak” when it comes to his emotions, Mario explains that the new single expresses his feeling of drowning in the reality of being in two different worlds with two women that he loves in different ways. “Sometimes you just have to let go and fall into the moment,” he adds. “That’s where the magic is.” Longtime Mario fans and newcomers will be treated to many magical moments among the eleven tracks comprising Dancing Shadows.

While Mario still gives a nod to the basic love songs that built his career, the singer/songwriter also seeks to unveil “different dimensions of himself as a person.” For instance, there’s the biographical “What You Started,” which references the inner-city Baltimore neighborhood—bordered by the streets Franklin and Normandie—where Mario grew up. The song’s intriguing tempo changes stem from Mario’s diverse musical influences ranging from James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder to Earth, Wind & Fire, Queen’s Freddie Mercury and ‘90s R&B. “I wanted to share something that I’ve never talked about before,” says Mario, who rewrote “What You Started” with the co-writers three times before recording the final version. “All of the passion and pain behind my voice came from growing up in Baltimore.

So, I wanted the lyrics and music to be in your face. This song is ultimately about the light/potential we have within ourselves and how sometimes it gets misused before you can finish what you started.” Mario was a writer on every song and a producer for the majority of the tracks on Dancing Shadows, which was executive produced by Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, One Direction). “Jake has helped me to bring out a more authentic side of myself,” shares Mario, “a side that is all about making records that you love and believe in. That’s what this album is about.” Dancing Shadows’ other standouts include the Mario/Gosling co-written ballad “Care for You” (inspired in part by Mario’s beloved late mother and grandmother), the Michael Jackson-inspired gritty up-tempo number “I Believe” and the title track. Of the latter, Mario remarks, “While everything else is being shown in a certain light to the outside world, only you know your true shadow. This album is me projecting my true shadow to fans and the world.”

Born Mario Dewar Barrett, Mario began projecting his innate artistry after being discovered by his first manager at the age of 11. Three years later, the Baltimore native—who grew up singing in church—signed a recording contract with music legend Clive Davis’ J Records. Mario’s eponymous debut studio album rolled out in 2002 featuring his first top-five R&B/pop hit “Just a Friend 2002,” a revamped cover of Biz Markie’s 1989 top 10 pop single. Two years later, Mario revisited the upper echelons of the Billboard charts with his sophomore set Turning Point. The platinum album spun off the melodic double-platinum Hot 100 chart-topper “Let Me Love You” (nine consecutive weeks), penned by Ne-Yo. Rounding out Mario’s album catalog are 2007’s Go, featuring the gold-certified single “Crying Out for Me,” and 2009’s D.N.A. That set’s lead single “Break Up,” with guests Sean Garrett and Gucci Mane, also went gold and peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart/No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.


Looking back on his early success, Mario says, “I often felt like I’d been groomed to be this artist no one ever knew. It was always Mario with the great voice and nothing else.” After losing his mother to her valiant struggle against drug addiction (“She was a very strong, very creative woman with so much potential”), Mario intends to upend fans’ prior perceptions and showcase his creative evolution with Dancing Shadows. And it’s perfect timing given the current renaissance of different genres of music that people are enjoying right now. Citing artists such as SZA and Childish Gambino, Mario notes, “I feel it’s important that genres like R&B, pop, and soul have the same urgent impact as hip-hop does today. The only way to accomplish that is by creating more genuine music that bends the perceived boundaries of such genre’s. I’m excited about this next level wave of music. Dancing Shadows truly reflects where I’ve been, where I’m at now and where I want to take my fans.”

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See Mario performing live at Stone Soul 2019!

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