The London Sessions - Mary J. Blige's triumphant return from first note to last is my top pick for album of the year — just in time, because 2014 was dismal in the Long Play format (also known as the LP).
It was a risk to leave the U.S. where soul has been less than par for a while now thanks to pop stars and producers like Drake, Max Martin, Minaj, et al.
Blige packed her suitcase and headed to the U.K. for inspiration. It shows how intuitive she is. I guess tracks about Anacondas were not touching her soul.
The results from these recordings are at times thrilling. "Therapy" the first track on the album, is the "Rehab" of 2014/15. In a recent interview Blige acknowledges that she was a fan of Amy Winehouse and felt a connection to her honesty in her lyrics and style of music and found it to be an inspiration for much of this album. Blige spent the summer in London even meeting with Winehouse's family, which I am sure they appreciated.
Blige who was born in the Bronx in '71 has consistently had an aching honesty in her lyrics — and they are exceptional on this album. She describes lying awake, "between two and four" on “Whole Damn Year.” Here again, she touches on topics that are relatable and modern but her sound and vocals vary depending on what type of song she is singing not unlike a painter who chooses which brushes to use. She sings confidently and stylistically from what sounds like other more distant eras when things were less complicated — and still manages to maintain her own identity.
Her voice flows effortlessly through the first three songs which are ballads which each have unique and distinctive styles, reminding one what a real soul singer sounds like and it feels like she is untouchable and on a different level than other's in this genre.
"Right now" feels like just that — right now. This is where popular dance music is headed again. Ditching E.D.M. for the straight up down to earth realness of R & B and House Music. You can thank Disclosure for that last bit because they produced several songs on this album and are also partly responsible for bringing good proper house music back to the forefront where it should be. But let's also thank Blige for being bold and taking a chance and doing something that not many popular artists have done recently.
Again, on "Whole Damn Year", a standout track about a painful breakup, she channels Terrence Trent D'Arby who was kind of always channeling Michael Jackson. "Nobody But You" feels like it is destined to be a hit single. There are few living singers that could or should even be mentioned in the same breath. This is Mary's time, again, as it should be. I predict Grammys in the arms of Mrs. Blige come February of 2016 and for once maybe someone who deserves them. Happy New Year.