Self-actualization music is a minefield, dense with platitudes, received wisdom, and unearned empowerment. What sets “The London Sessions” apart is that Mary J. Blige believes it. Blige believes the hell out of it. At times, the album’s title seems to refer not to recording but to psychoanalysis; in the very first song the singer addresses that exact topic head on and with a steely gospel fire. The language of “Whole Damn Year” is measured therapy-speak, and since her words can’t express the true anger and anguish of the work she’s done to wrest herself from a bad situation, her delivery has to. (And does it ever.) But the change of studio scenery also seems to have helped light the fire under Blige, who has the immediacy and directness of a singer recorded live in the room with her band. Too much of “The London Sessions” is given over to frisky house tracks like “Follow” and “Nobody But You,” which don’t hit nearly as hard as the rest, but Blige has maintained her fierce authority throughout. And she’s certainly earned the right to set herself free.
ESSENTIAL “Therapy”Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.