Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 13, 2013

It would be an exercise in futility to try and find anyone under the age of 50 who hasn’t heard of Mary J. Blige, especially since she’s been one of the most iconic and vital parts of American hip-hop culture in the past 20 years.
I was 13 years old when I first heard her belt out “Not Gon’ Cry No More” and 14 years later I’m still enthralled by her whiskey and smoky voice.
But, I’m reminded by “the powers that be” that she is also one of the best-selling female vocalists of all time and is known by the Hollywood elite as “the voice of a generation.”
Not bad for a girl from Yonkers, NY. Not bad at all. A quick, little history on Blige would go something like this…
She shared her pain with us on “Family Affair;” taught us how to move on after a major setback with “No More Drama;” and, educated us how to love again with “Living Proof,” which was the theme song to the runaway hit film, “The Help.”
She’s sold more than 90 million albums, won nine Grammy awards, performed at the Presidential inauguration and is regularly cited as one of the greatest vocalists of all time. But one thing she hasn’t done is give us an easy, tender holiday offering. That is, until now.
It seems as though every artist releases a holiday album at some point in their career, so why should Mary be any different?
I suppose she’s not. But, when her record label sent me the album a few days early for review, what I found was not only a truly solid, lingering record, but a holiday mainstay amongst the hundreds of holiday albums due for release this year.
In true Mary J. Blige fashion, there are a ton of special guests who add nothing but complete dexterity and warmth to the album.
Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb, the last surviving Bee Gee’s member, drop in to lend their legendary vocals, as do Jessie J, The Clark Sisters and Marc Anthony.
Personally, my all-time favorite holiday song is “Do You Hear What I Hear,” which Karen Carpenter made wildly famous in the mid-80s.
I was excited to hear Blige’s version, especially since every time I hear Carpenter sing it on the radio I immediately become aware and miss my mom, though she only lives in Raleigh.
Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was thrilled. Although I’m not the biggest Carpenters fan in the world, I agree it would be hard to do a cover of the original version justice.
But MJB breezes through it as if it was child’s play and I instantly added it to my playlist.
Do I still love the original? Of course.
As I mentioned before, it will always make me think of my mom, even though she’s very much alive and healthy.
Go ahead, shoot me. I’m almost 30 years old and I’m still in love with my mom. And that’s what a great song should do. But, I digress…
There are several standouts, including “Little Drummer Boy,” “Mary, Did You Know” and “Petit Papa Noel.”
I’d be quite surprised if Mary doesn’t win another Grammy for the latter, which is an old French holiday favorite and, perhaps, the only song on the album in which she truly “takes us to the church” with her trademark vocal abilities. It certainly made a believer out of me.
In all, I’d be willing to bet that, if added to your collection, “A Mary Christmas” would not only go on to become a seasonal favorite, but a hopeful piece of both promise and love for the new year. And, really, what more can you ask for from a holiday album?
“A Mary Christmas” shows MJB in a vulnerable, yet quietly happy place that we haven’t seen since her album “Growing Pains.”
Certainly destined to be a staple in your holiday collection, never forget, as she sings in “Petit Papa Noel,” the ‘true meaning of the season.’
“A Mary Christmas” will be released on Tuesday through Verve/Matriarch Records.
Jared Faw lives in Salisbury.