Mary J. Blige
“A Mary Christmas”
Three years ago R&B singer Mary J. Blige appeared on Andrea Bocelli’s “My Christmas,” and she was hands down the most soulful part of the Italian tenor’s otherwise ho-hum holiday album.
It turns out Blige has a knack for interpreting Christmas music, striking just the right balance between sacred and secular. On “A Mary Christmas,” her first such album, Blige swings and sways her way through a collection of songs both reverent and revered.
She worked on it with David Foster, who also produced Christmas albums by Bocelli, Rod Stewart, and Josh Groban. His touch is not exactly light. He tends to iron out the songs until they sound impeccable, if not always warm and cozy. Be forewarned: This is Blige at her most easy listening, smothered in strings with nary a high note out of place.
“A Mary Christmas” has its moments, though. “Little Drummer Boy” quakes with a gospel choir, and on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Blige loosens up to croon with ease. Barbra Streisand, whose penchant for pristine production is clearly a touchstone for this album, simmers alongside Blige and trumpeter Chris Botti on “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Tasteful renditions of “My Favorite Things” (as in, “these are a few of my favorite things”) and “Petit Papa Noël” (sung in French) are nice surprises amid the chestnuts (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”).