The article was originally published on Oct. 15, 2013.
ary J. Blige has been able to adapt to just about any genre of music throughout her career. As the only artist with Grammy Awards in pop, gospel, R&B, and rap, it seems like she has done it all.
However, Blige isn’t through yet and now tackles the genre of holiday music. She is not unfamiliar with recording festive songs, as she recorded staples such as the Angie Martinez-assisted “Christmas in The City,” “What Child Is This,” with Andrea Bocelli, and the latest offering, “We Three Kings,” with Rod Stewart. Yet, Blige has never released a true album dedicated to Christmas songs until now.
“It’s perfect timing,” said Blige told Essence. “It’s something that someone brought to my attention from the label. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I went with it.”
Released Oct.15 and produced entirely by David Foster, A Mary Christmas adds Blige’s soulful voice to recognizable holiday tunes that make for a gorgeous body of work. While she is known as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, she didn’t bring her trademark sound to this LP.
“I was definitely not trying to make hip-hop soul Christmas songs or some club music Christmas songs,” said Blige. “I’m just like everyone else, I don’t like when people take the nostalgia out of the classics. I didn’t want to mess up. So I just gave you my version of the Christmas songs.”
With A Mary Christmas Blige did the latter – brought her own unique flare to the festive offering. The LP opens with “Little Drummer Boy” originally called “Carols of the Drums.” Backed by dramatic drums, the traditional tune instantly draws music fans in as Blige begins the song relaxed and soft. She then slowly works her way to bridge, elevating her voice to match the choir, which takes the song to higher heights. Before ending “Little Drummer Boy” she regains her musical composure.
Blige brings warmth to our hearts with her rendition of Judy Garland’s 1944 classic “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas” then perfectly nails “My Favorite Things.”
Her toasty lower register shines on the remake of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” While she slightly mimics Hathaway’s chops on the first verse, she quickly switches gears, making it her own. She even adds her own holiday message towards the end, making it more personable to her fans.
“C’mon’ bass,” Blige utters as the bass guitar starts playing on “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Then, after she queues in the drums and gets in a comfortable improvisation pocket, she shows she can swing like the jazz greats. This speedy vocal number is undoubtedly a standout on A Mary Christmas, and one track fans will enjoy live.
Now, what do you get when you take a Walt Disney tune plus Mary J.Blige and Barbra Streisand? No doubt one of best duets in holiday music and music period. The unexpected duet “When You Wish Upon A Star” is bathed in richness as the two iconic forces wrap their voices effortlessly together.
As we shimmy down the chimney of the tracklist, our hearts are full on the emotional “Mary, Did You Know” later, we are captivated by “Do You Hear What I Hear,” a duet between Blige and London native Jessie J. Then, the Blige tackles French perfectly with “Petit Papa Nöel.”
Blige calls upon The Clark Sisters for “The First Noel.” She begins the magical tune before the powerful bunch chimes in, laying their gospel-infused vocals to the traditional cut.
A Mary Christmas closes with “Noche De Paz,” a Spanish duet of “Silent Night” with Marc Anthony. The supreme track finds Blige singing the beautiful carol in English before Anthony joins in with the second verse in Spanish. Their voices match perfectly together as they complement each other’s subtle tones.
All in all, A Mary Christmas showcased the versatility of Blige. It proved she can sing anything and is willing to take risks, approaching French and Spanish records with confidence and vocal prowess.
Whether it’s teaming up with Jessie J, The Clark Sisters, or even Barbara Streisand, A Mary Christmas further highlighted Blige’s ability to collaborate with diverse artists of any musical background. In addition, A Mary Christmas found Blige not replicating any artist’s sound before her with the holiday tunes. Instead, she stayed true to herself and owned each record with that unique MJB flavor.
Although the album is excellent overall, there are two lows. On “The First Noel” featuring The Clark Sisters, it seems Blige got lost in the record, making the fantastic sibling group appear as the lead artists on the tune instead of Blige. However, with anointed gospel talents like theirs, it could be understood how Blige could get entangled amid their praise and worship.
Lastly, it would have been appreciated if Blige had recorded an original tune for A Mary Christmas. Despite the fact, she stated, “I was definitely not trying to make hip-hop soul Christmas songs,” adding an adult contemporary R&B tune such as her 1999 record “No Happy Holidays” or “Christmas in the City” would have indeed been admired by her loyalists.
Nonetheless, A Mary Christmas is definitely a stocking stuffer.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars