More About Mary J. BligeYou have only sensed this Mary. When she sings, a collection plate should be passed around; tithes seem due. Choruses sung by the Pentecostal daughter become anthems. She carries truth like a wand; respect like a shield. She seeks love, speaks prophecy. "Looking in the mirror nowadays is more than just lookin at me. It's looking at the depths of me," she says. Herewith her most musical album; her most soulful reflection: Mary, everlasting.
It hasn't always been this way. Certain things about Mary Jane Blige you just can't shake. What's the 411 presented a shy, combat-booted, tough-love Yonkers queen straight out of the Slow Bomb projects. My Life's Mary was forsaken, struggling with tensions between the sacred and the secular, breaking mountaintop truths over heads like golden calves. Share My World was an independent, brave step toward the day of reckoning. But let Mary tell it, hers isn't so much a struggle as a journey.
"I was crying out for help during the My Life album," she confesses. "If you listen to the song 'Be Happy,' I was like, Please, somebody come save me. Even by the time Share My World came, I was still trying to find my way." All the multi-platinum sales, accolades and awards in the world didn't matter. That was the problem; they were of the world. Life has been difficult these last couple years, she'll tell you. But the point is the not in her deep-set scars, it's the her healing. And Mary is getting stronger-rising-everyday. Ask her yourself. How you doin, Mary? She'll laugh easy. "I'm holding on."
"The making of this album was unbelievable," Mary says. "All I saw was love; I don't normally see that. No problems, no nonsense in the studio. It was 'You coming right or you not comin in here.'" A sampling of those who made it through: Elton John. Lauryn Hill. Chucky Thompson. DMX. Aretha Franklin. Babyface. Eric Clapton. K-Ci Hailey. Nas.
Mary co-wrote 90% of the album, which she approached for a seventies, early eighties feel. Mary, the album, is about what's happening in her life now. "You know the feeling you get listening to Stevie Wonder's Songs In the Key of Life?" she asks. "That's the feeling I needed to hear from this album. And I definitely think we got it."
I'd give my flesh/ For yours I'd sacrifice/ Everything. . .
Mary is a fluid venture from it's first single, "All That I Can Say", featuring Lauryn Hill's signature old school, doo-wop production and simply pretty background vocals. It's a slow, lucid swing and one of Lauryn's best production efforts, Miseducation included. "That's what I love about Lauryn," says Mary. "I don't think any other artist would have done that for me. When she looks at me, it's not with eyes of envy." Rather, there's a respectful, female intimacy, evident throughout the airy, snaking song. But "All"'s most chilling moment is when Mary and Lauryn get to the otherside of the bridge (Lauryn is known for building a sturdy bridge) and out comes a covert wail: Mary's heaaaarrree!
Actually, much of Mary will make you tremble and rock. "Beautiful One" is a delicate, deeply rooted song that reunites Mary with Chucky Thompson who produced most of My Life. The track's phrasing is more profound than complex; the arrangement, angelic. It's also Mary Jane Blige's favorite song on the album. "Oh my God, I feel crazy on the inside when I hear it, like heaven was running through me, a message has been given to me," she says. "I just wanted to cry. I can picture my wedding through this song, but when I sing You are my love, you are my diamond, you are my flower, you are my life, you are everything to me, I'm saying that the beautiful one is in you."
Perhaps Mary's most intriguing track is "Not Lookin.'" Originally the song was to be a duet with R&B artist Joe, then Eric from Blackstreet. But the only man who could stand up vocally to Mary was K-Ci Hailey, one of her greatest tests and teachers. They haven't dueted since What's the 411's "I Don't Want To Do A