My biggest gripe with Mary J. Blige’s Christmas album A Mary Christmas is that it’s a subpar Mary J. Blige album: it’s way less soulful and way less consistent than I have come to expect from the Empress of Soul/Queen of R&B who’s released an album about every two years since her 1992 debut What’s the 411?
As a Christmas album, it fares only slightly better. No one is expected to reinvent Christmas music, but the arrangements on almost all of the 12 songs on the album are so unexciting, you wonder why Blige even bothered. Anyone could have released a Christmas album like A Mary Christmas.
Blige gets some help on four tracks: “Do You Hear What I Hear?” features Jessie J, Barbra Streisand joins her on “When You Wish Upon A Star,” and Marc Anthony sings the Spanish verses on the Spanglish version of “Silent Night,” which closes the album. “The First Noel” with the Clark Sisters is one of too few album highlights: there are clues of what the album could have been on “Mary Did You Know?” and “The Christmas Song,” two tracks on which her voice isn’t neutered or overpowered by the music. The potential is the most disappointing part of the album: “This Christmas,” released as a single earlier this month, and the “What Child Is This?” duet off Andrea Bocelli’s 2009 album My Christmas prove that A Mary Christmas could have been much better.
I always thought Mary J. Blige was kind of a badass, but her renditions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Petit Papa Noël” tell me otherwise (“Rudolph” ends with Blige exclaiming: “Man, that was fun!”). A mid-October release for a Christmas album isn’t unusual, but with Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped In Red slated for an Oct. 29 release and Tamar Braxton, hot off the release of her Love and War album, releasing her set Winter Loverland on Nov. 11, it’s not hard to imagine Blige’s effort get forgotten about.
Mary J. Blige, A Mary Christmas (Matriarch/Verve, 2013)
1. Little Drummer Boy
2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
3. Favourite Things
4. This Christmas
5. The Christmas Song
6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
7. When You Wish Upon a Star (Duet with Barbra Streisand)
8. Mary Did You Know?
9. Do You Hear What I Hear? (Duet with Jessie J)
10. Petit Papa Noël
11. The First Noel (Duet with the Clark Sisters)
12. Noche de Paz/Silent Night (Duet with Marc Anthony)