There was a time when the idea of an American soul legend like Mary J Blige upping sticks to the UK to make an album would have been unthinkable.
America, the home of R&B, hip hop, soul, house, techno and a dozen other genres, having anything to learn from the UK? Preposterous.
Now, though, thanks to Amy Winehouse, Disclosure, Sam Smith and others, London is the place to be – especially if, like Mary J, you want to appeal to a whole new audience.
The London Sessions is Blige’s 13th studio album and finds her collaborating with Disclosure, Smith, producer Naughty Boy and Emeli Sande – and invoking the ghost of Winehouse on Therapy.
Poking gentle fun at Blige’s time on the psychiatrist’s couch, it’s soulful, funky and one of the highlights here. Maybe the producers and songwriters deserve much of the credit for the effervescent grooves and big soul belters over which Blige does her thing – but what a thing that is.
Her voice is a marvel, smooth as melted chocolate and showing no signs of age – and it’s noticeable that the album falls down only when it’s given only a supporting role, such as on the Rodney Jerkins-led My Loving.
Like this? Try these: Amy Winehouse, Back to Black; Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour
By Andrew Greenhalgh