Mary J. Blige
"The Breakthrough" (Geffen)
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A new Mary J. Blige album always means a briefing on where the queen of hip-hop soul is in life, and this time -- after jettisoning the drama and embracing good fortune -- she's all about epiphanies. Such numbers as "No One Will Do" and "About You" follow the upbeat mode of 2003's "Love & Life," not so much revelations as stop-to-think appreciations of true love. She also emphasizes the spiritual in a version of U2's "One," teaming with Bono amid a gospel-style chorus.
Blige self-indulgently lets many songs on "The Breakthrough" (due in stores Dec. 20) run too long but keeps her sound fresh with the help of such producers as Rodney Jerkins, Will.i.am, Raphael Saadiq and Jam & Lewis, adeptly weaving beats and live instruments, vocals and rapping, melody and rhythm in configurations alternately stark and lush.
Happy she may be, but, like the hip-hop Oprah, the singer-songwriter is compelled to give back, sharing the sort of clear-headed realizations that came as she traveled from rough Yonkers childhood to pop superstardom.