She still looks in my life, and sees what I’ve seen

Full disclosure: I’m not mlbopp. I’m her longtime friend, Kim. But I promise to aspire to her level of blogging fabulosity.

I while back, while hanging out with a friend at my apartment, Mary J. Blige’s 1994 track Be Happy came up on the iPod shuffle. My friend said: “Man – I wore this album out back in the day!”

That is what My Life was to a lot of folks – a coming-of-age soundtrack that we superimposed onto our own lives. And while the music itself was solid, it was the special quality that Blige brought to the work that makes it stand out almost two decades later: that rare ability to convey such raw emotion in her voice so that even non-English speakers know when she’s happy, or in pain, or in love.

That’s why I was so excited by the release of My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1). The long and short of my review: If you like Mary, you’ll love the ride.

Parts of the album are quite reminiscent of the original My Life – right down to the intro and colloquy with Sean “Puffy (Puff Daddy? P. Diddy? Who can keep up?)” Combs, which whom Blige reunited for the project.

The dance tunes at the top of the album largely deliver, with items like her single 25/8 and the infectious Next Level (featuring Busta Rhymes) – a track that makes me wish it were warmer out, because it’s begs to be blasted through open car windows on your way to some Saturday night revelry. A bit disappointing was her rendition of Chaka Kahn’s seminal Ain’t Nobody, since few can cover Kahn like Blige (See Sweet Thing.) Her voice holds up, but her verbatim, karaoke-style recitation of Kahn’s original is uninspiring. She could have done better. But I still do a little dance when I hear it, so there you have it.

Then come the ballads, and Blige brings the emotional vocals she is known for. Love a Woman, (featuring Beyoncé) is like modern Try a Little Tenderness. And in the haunting Empty Prayers, the heartbreak is palpable. But best of all are the surprises, like her beautiful cover of country artist Matt Morris’ Need Someone. After 20 years, she still knows how to bring something new to the table.

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  1. My favorite songs of 2011 « Come On, Elleen - December 30, 2011

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