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Album review: Mary J. Blige's 'Stronger With Each Tear'

December 21, 2009 |  6:57 pm
Mary Don't mess with a recently recovered woman on the dance floor. That's the lesson to be learned on "I Feel Good," a supple, piano-sprinkled song about a lady showing off her moves, telling the smack talkers to back off so she can dance away her drama. It's the type of track that, in lesser hands, would've remained satisfied with empty boasting. But under Mary J. Blige's control, it's a layered mood piece that hints at a rich back story.

No one understands better than Blige how rewarding hard-won happiness -- the kind that delivers a soul after the darkest hour -- can be. Her ninth studio album, "Stronger With Each Tear," finds the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul as in touch with that resilient truth as ever, her personal discoveries bound in slick but never alienating packaging.

The compositions belie their complexity with expansive hip-hop beats, delicate piano and lush strings. Producers such as Ne-Yo know how to primp and pamper without hitting overload, and guests Drake, T.I. and Trey Songz all deliver strong turns. Yet some of the best moments are stripped down: the Raphael Saadiq-produced "I Can See in Color," also featured on the "Precious" soundtrack, is a profession of self-worth that's at once silky and dirge-like.

"Stronger With Each Tear" might not have the raw emotionalism of some of her earlier work but it's clearly a polished performance from a woman who's 100% comfortable in her own skin, healed wounds and all.

-- Margaret Wappler

Mary J. Blige
"Stronger With Each Tear"
Geffen Records
Three stars (out of four)