Friday, October 18, 2013

Merry Mary (Music Review: Mary J Blige, A Mary Christmas)

What has happened to me? I used to really adore and look forward to the yearly Christmas offerings, but lately I have been getting more and more apathetic towards them. Old age? Cynicism Overload? I got Mary J Blige's Christmas album, "A Mary Christmas" a couple of days ago and I just played it. I was kind of looking forward to it, as I am a big MJB fan. This disc was produced by David Foster, and, honestly,  cannot think of a more mismatched producer for Mary. One of the most fantastic things about Mary is her attitude - she ain't the Queen of Hip Hop and Soul for nothing. Foster has surrounded her songs with mostly "traditional" arrangements, all beautiful and lush, that I don't even remotely recognize this Mary I am hearing. Mary isn't street here, she is ensconced on a glamorous penthouse, wearing a fur coat overlooking the twinkling lights of New York City, not down in the ghetto with the girls. I mean, she even duets with Barbra Freakin' Streisand, so you know now that she is mingling wit the rich and famous. This album is sleek, but I wanted edge. I wanted rap collaborations, I wanted a raw and rowdy Holiday from her, and what I am getting is an incarnation of a Michael Buble album. She breezes through chestnut classics like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy" well, and even in a jazzed-up "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," everything sounds safe. Blige isn't the best vocalist, and she does sound good her - matching Jessie J, for example - but it all feels so calculated. Every song has a purpose, a nod to a demographic (duetting with Marc Anthony) or an appeal to the gospel circuit (The Clark Sisters)  In the end, this is an appealing album: lush and comforting, just like what we want our Christmas to be. Blige sings as if on auto-pilot, and she hits everything in place. What it lacks is the one thing she s known for...soul.

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