With the days growing shorter and the air more crisp across the country, the nation has fully embraced the autumn season. And while we celebrate Fall for the colorful leaves, the joys of football, and the savors of turkey, what seems to fuel our motions during this season is the compulsive mad dash to the end of the year. Visions of first snow falls, twinkling lights, and sugar plums dancing in our head occur to us for the most wonderful time of year: Christmas. Whether you are a person wracked with the nostalgia and joy the season brings, or one who very heartily disdains the consumer driven Christmas creep, its undeniable that at this time of year we turn our attention to the king of holidays. And with such anticipation comes Christmas carols, those iconic songs we only play in rotation for a certain time of year. On A Mary Christmas, Mary J. Blige offers her rendition of many classic songs of the season, just in time for her latest motion picture project Black Nativity. In this album, we find the Christmas songs weve come to love jazzed up by that full-bodied voice of MJB that we also love.
While not a rival of the definitive Christmas collection by some of Bliges diva contemporaries, this album is still pleasant and swells with nostalgia. Without including any original numbers, this album relies on the spin the reigning Queen of Hip-Hop Soul puts on the classic numbers. For the most part though, Mary preserves the timeless sound of the songs. She sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in its slow jazzy melody. Her take on Little Drummer Boy is nearly as angelic as the little protagonist of the song. And her versions of This Christmas and The Christmas Song ring true to the originals sang by the legendary Donny Hathaway and Nat King Cole, respectively. While it would have been sublime to find the twists Blige could offer these numbers, her versions warm your heart with such fondness of yesteryear that you are grateful she chose a more tradition tact for the songs.
On her jazzed up Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, Blige is in rare form, scatting away about the heroic reindeer in a Billie Holiday fashion. It is an impossibly fun version of Rudolph, with crashing drums, and flirts of trumpet, you would wonder if Rudolphs nose not only glowed, but also sparkled! Adding to the sparkle and nostalgia, Mary incorporated the Disney anthem When You Wish Upon a Star in her collection. Though not a traditional Christmas song, its so interwoven with the beauty of childhood, it seems so fitting. And, if Disney and Christmas combined were not magical enough, the perennial favorite enchantress Barbra Streisand is featured on that track. Other notable features include The Clark Sisters on The First Noel and Marc Antony on Noche de Paz.
Of all the songs on the album, Mary Did You Know? conveyed the most passion and well demonstrated MJBs voice. The song, which is relatively new in the Christmas canon, has previously been tackled mostly by country music singers. Recently it has circulated in pop and gospel circles alike, with covers by Clay Aiken and Cee Lo Green. But of all those versions, Bliges take has real potential to launch this sincere and cerebral song to a prominent place in the Christmas music repertoire.
The Christmas season is nothing without the sounds of the season. While Bliges take does not venture far from the classics, she preserves the magic of the holiday. This album might not produce their own iconic Christmas carols like other divas before her. Nonetheless, its Christmas; only the smallest-heart Grinch can resist A Mary Christmas.
Tracks We Like: Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer; Mary, Did You Know?