Friday, November 29, 2013

A Mary Christmas

Mary J Blige heralds the season

     Yes, Kelly Clarkson has released a Christmas album and I know exactly what it will sound like song for song.  However, Mary J. Blige’s A Mary Christmas hauls out a number of surprises.  We’re a little prejudiced because MJB has been the little engine that could with talent to burn for two decades and her modesty is a beacon in our oversaturated celebrity
culture.  David Foster arranged and produced the album and this collaboration will please Blige’s fans as well as engendering new ones.

     What works first is that there are twelve tracks and, as I’ve written before, that’s my optimal number for a CD.  This is a collection and it begins with a jazzhop version of “Little Drummer Boy” that I wasn’t too certain would work because Foster seemed to be smoothing out Blige.  I was glad to hear a glottal stop because I felt like she hadn’t given up her identity.  She went on to do well with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “My Favorite Things,” but takes off with “This Christmas,” where she sounds like this generation’s Patti LaBelle.  

     She’s incomparable in duets with Streisand – no one has worked with Babs so well since Barry Gibb – and Jessie J – they turn “Do You Hear What I Hear?” into a dance track and it works spectacularly.  She goes so far as to make Marc Anthony sound like he isn’t a wimp, which was something even Jennifer Lopez couldn’t do.  Their version of “Silent Night,” partly in Spanish sounds better, Neil thought, than in German.  Oh yes, Ms. Blige even sings “Papa Noël” in French and she pulls it off.  After hearing her sing effortlessly in so many styles, I think that Mary J. Blige is the incarnation of Dinah Washington, the best singer of the ‘50s.

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