Named “The most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years” by Billboard Magazine in 2009, the now forty six year old Soul diva Mary J. Blige has always found a way to connect to the emotions of a song. A career that began at the dawn of the ’90s, to date, Blige has sold over 50 million albums and 25 million singles sold worldwide. Success that has led to 9 Grammy Awards, plus an amazing 32 nominations, she has also received a Golden Globe nomination and 5 American Music Awards. A woman who has earned every accolade she has received in music, the New York native returns in 2017 with her thirteenth studio album, Strength of a Woman, via Capitol Records.
Her first album since 2014’s The London Sessions, she is joined by Producers DJ Camper, Bam, Hit-Boy, and KAYTRANADA, along with guest collaborations from by Kanye West, Quavo, DJ Khaled, Missy Elliott, as well as Prince Charlez. Her highest-charting album since 2009’s Stronger with Each Tear, does Strength of a Woman live up to the hype?
As an artist who never separated her professional and personal life, Blige has used the subject matter of reality to connect with audiences. That being said, “Love Yourself,” featuring Kanye West, jumps in feet first into the water, allowing listeners to bathe and soak in lush vocals and rich arrangement. Kicking in a solid rap and vocals from one of the industry’s leading men, the music slips out of traditional R&B molds in a positive manner. Then, “Thick Of It” slips into the traditional mold of Soul/R&B, a style that has always been the bread and butter for Blige. Lyrically arranged with lush instrumentation, classic Mary J. Blige makes her mark.
Moving on, “Set Me Free” is a touchstone for every woman wronged. This is before funky angst joins the party on “It’s Me,” song that could have easy cut from the album since it feels a bit cliched, but Blige is allowed the luxury. From here, Strength of a Woman is loaded with more brilliant collaborations including “Glow Up,” featuring Quavo, DJ Khaled and Missy Elliott, a Hip Hop anthem coming from a woman that has had her share of challenges.
Later on, “U + Me (Love Lesson)” goes back into the soul sister everyone knows and loves as crystal clear vocals are mixed brilliantly. Sliding into “Indestructible,” the album really starts finding traction, hitting the sweet spot, and at fourteen songs Strength of a Woman can begin to feel like an homage to Blige’s staying power as an artist and a woman. That may be just the point, just listen to cuts “Thank You” and “Survivor” and it becomes evident. Thereafter, “Find The Love” sounds like a testimony, showing listeners a way out of the dark. Simple and subtle, the song works gently on the album’s theme. This is before ” Smile,” featuring Prince Charlez, and “Telling The Truth, ” featuring KAYTRANADA. Winding down with the title-track, “Strength of a Woman,” it is a cornerstone of the album, lyrically putting the web around all of the experiences that have shaped Blige. Finally, “Hello Father” is an ode to God. A devout believer in that which saved her life, the Gospel feel of this last song is an interesting twist with its Rock vibe.
Though Strength of a Woman has some weak points, the production value is spot on and vocal delivery from Mary J. Blige are masterful. A wonderful return from the R&B princess, Blige will be out on tour through September, so be sure to indulge in Strength of a Woman and catch her live. CrypticRock gives this album 4.5 out of 5 stars.