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Christmas album review: Mary J. Blige's 'A Mary Christmas'

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Mary J. Blige's 'A Mary Christmas'

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ARTIST: Mary J. Blige
TITLE: “A Mary Christmas”
LABEL: Verve Records
STYLE: Soulful, R&B-Pop Christmas

NOTABLE: Hip-hop, R&B, and pop singer and Mary J. Blige teams with producer David Foster for her first Christmas album. Blige takes mostly a traditional approach to the material, which features R&B, gospel, jazz, soul, and traditional versions of twelve holiday standards.

Besides English, Blige sings in both French (“Petit Papa Noël”) and Spanish (“Noche de Paz” – a duet of “Silent Night” with Mac Anthony) on “A Mary Christmas.” In addition to Anthony, guests include Jessie J, The Clark Sisters, Barbra Streisand and Chris Botti. The Deluxe Edition, available at Target, contains two extra songs –“Winter Wonderland” and “Silent Night.”

HIGH POINTS: Blige’s voice gets better with every album. She sings with soul, power, and wonderful restraint – check out her inspired version of “My Favorite Things.” Rarely does she add unnecessary vocal runs or flourishes like many of her contemporaries often tend to do.

Blige breathes new life into “Little Drummer Boy,” which starts with a traditional arrangement and builds to a soulful gospel preach, complete with a clapping choir. Similarly, a jazz big band turns “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” into a toe-tapping highlight complete with Blige scatting, singing, and sounding like she’s having a great time.

Blige sounds great trading lines with Barbra Streisand on “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which also features Chris Botti on trumpet.

LOW POINT: The gospel magic that works on “Little Drummer Boy” turns “The First Noel” into an unfocused mess. Blige’s versions of songs like “This Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” and “Mary Did You Know” aren’t bad, but sound a bit too generic to distinguish them from the numerous versions already recorded.

GRADE: B

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