So it’s officially November, which means it’s time to bring out your dust-covered Christmas albums. If you aren’t part-elf like me, that just might mean an ancient copy of Mariah Carey’s iconic Merry Christmas. However, if you’re in the mood to try something new and spice up your festivities this year, Mary J. Blige’s brand new Christmas album is a great choice.
A Mary Christmas is the industry veteran’s eleventh studio album, and is definitely indicative of her experience. While some people might find the making of a Christmas album a sign of a fading career, tons of the industry’s most prominent artists have one: Arcade Fire, Josh Groban, Mariah Carey (of course), and that’s just to name a few. Instead, making a Christmas can be seen as the marking of a transition from transitory pop icon to industry classic.
However, what sets A Mary Christmas apart from the rest of the flock is her R&B take on Christmas classics. She adds a touch of the soul-gospel flair for which she is well-known to songs that have been around for decades; the outcome is, as you would expect, very pleasant. Her rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a far cry from that of the typical elementary school classroom. Complete with scat singing and a propulsive saxophone, Blige’s proclamation at the end of the song, “That was fun!” is no word of a lie.
I nearly fell off my chair when I heard her rendition of My Favorite Things. The show tune, originally sung in The Sound of Music, has recently become a popular song on Christmas albums and I am all for it. The air of wondrous mystery is only magnified by Blige’s crystalline vocals. She manages to capture the magic of Christmas with only her voice, at once delicately brilliant and demonstrative of her renowned powerhouse singing. This song is sure to give even the Grinchiest among us at least a dash of Christmas spirit.
However, even with all the work Blige does to capture the spirit of the holidays through her lens of soul influence, the highlights of the album are the duets. The iconic Do You Hear What I Hear? features English singer Jessie J, whose equally powerful vocals team up with Blige’s to create a positive bazooka of Christmas spirit. The First Noel, which features The Clark Sisters, is the epitome of gospel Christmas music; it’s exactly what you would expect to hear stepping into a church in New York City on Christmas Eve. Noche De Paz (Silent Night, in Spanish) features Marc Anthony. The song being in Spanish renders the typically boring Christmas anthem slightly more exotic.
The best of the duets, however, features Barbra Streisand and the composer Chris Botti. Instead of remaking a Christmas song, Blige brilliantly offers a rendition of When You Wish Upon a Star. Yes, the song from the Disney Pinocchio soundtrack. The track is dazzling; it captures the beauty of the holiday season and offers the listener a chance to reminisce in the marvel that the holidays brought in their childhood.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, A Mary Christmas is an album ideal for curling up with a cup of cocoa on a blistery winter night, catching up with family or friends. Is it Christmas yet?
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Verve Records, Universal Music Group
Listen to The First Noel, Featuring The Clark Sisters:
Great review from Control Magazine, however, their rating of the album should be higher.