REVIEWS: New Mary J. Blige, old Carrie Underwood

HMO122214MARYJMary J. Blige, The London Sessions. Nobody was sensing Mary J. Blige needed a change more than Mary J. Blige. To reinvent her sound, which she says was going “stagnant,” the “No More Drama” singer embarked on a journey to London for a few weeks, locking herself away with some of the hottest British musicians: Disclosure, Emeli Sandé, Naughty Boy and Sam Smith. The result is The London Sessions, a turning point for an artist who, throughout her 20-plus-year career, has prided herself on being the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Blige, however, doesn’t completely abandon her Whats the 411? roots — she expands them. Here, her usual musical catharsis is, in many ways, at its most intimate, but when Blige gets crunk at the clubs — letting beat-makers du jour turn her into the disco diva we’ve always secretly wanted her to be — it’s especially apparent she’s taking worthwhile risks. “Pick Me Up” taps Naughty Boy for a lounge-y clarinet-adorned dance groove, Craze & Hoax bring in the boom during the spirited “Long Hard Look” and the Rodney Jerkins-produced house anthem “My Love,” though substandard by comparison, also grants Blige welcome vitality. Even when she pours her heart out on big ballad “Not Loving You,” co-penned by Smith, the influence of her time spent abroad is evident. With its simple melody, the piano-led torch song is like hearing Mary J. Blige sing for the first time.

HMO122214CARRIECarrie Underwood, Greatest Hits: Decade #1. Like most American Idol grads, Carrie Underwood was so painfully play-it-safe in the days after her 2005 victory that someone, be it Jesus or not, needed to take that wheel. Whether it was the Man Above or a label head or simply the pressure from the more-musically-fearless Miranda Lambert, mawkish songs about Him, patriotism and her mom would, thankfully, lessen. There would be more grit. More cheatin’ tunes. And most importantly, there would be an evolution. The two-disc, 25-track Greatest Hits: Decade #1 chronicles Underwood’s trajectory from Idol on, as the vanilla girl with a voice turned into a singing superstar with staying power. One of two new tunes, “Something in the Water,” for instance, is in the vein of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” — both are contemporary Christian songs about healing — but its production is more Kings of Leon than Rascal Flatts. On “Little Toy Gun,” a rhythmic drum punch and fiery vocals set the scene for a domestic abuse narrative, which emphasizes an edge Underwood’s really only revealed since 2012’s Blown Away, her creative breakthrough. Playing against type, bad-girl kiss-off “Before He Cheats,” also included on the set, still reigns as one of her best singles. And a career pinnacle — singing “How Great Thou Art” live with Vince Gill in 2011 — soars all the way to the heavens. If Underwood continues down this road, challenging herself not just vocally but also artistically, Decade #2 won’t need any other hands on the wheel but her own.

Calvin Harris, Motion. Nu-disco wasn’t the same when Calvin Harris and Rihanna brought “We Found Love” into our lives. But on his fourth studio album, Motion, the DJ’s throw-downs need to find more than love — they need to find originality. Squandering his proven knack for original electro-pop is a derivative array of Zumba-made EDM, like “Open Wide,” featuring Big Sean innuendo. Harris’ collaboration with HAIM on “Pray to God” invigorates, as do a few other songs (see “Ecstasy”), but for the most part, Motion is in one very hopeless place.

Chris Azzopardi 

—  admin

George Michael previews new single online

Despite all that he’s gone through and keeps going through, I still get excited when George Michael releases new music. Sure he’s self-destructive, but his music continues to grow and impress. Maybe that 420 is good for something.

This song isn’t so new, but he’s posted a three-minute preview of his remake of New Order’s “True Faith”  on his website. He’s auto-tuned without abandon which I think works here. Why not go all the way with it? He slows the song down heavily to a dreamier sound from its original New Wave dance beat.

Oh and you can see that Michael’s embracing his Father Figure-ness and going silver daddy on his cover.

The single will be released March 13.

—  Rich Lopez

Jeffree Star plays tonight at The Loft — you can still win tix

Born to be a Star

Internet-bred Jeffree Star is on the up and up. Pushing himself into self-created Web fame caught enough attention to garner a fanbase. Now that mega-producer Akon has signed him on, the out goth drag artist is downright legit.

Star stopped in Dallas back in May during his 2 Drunk 2 Fuck Tour, but announced a whole new tour for the latter half of 2010 — only this time, he says he’s releasing new music along the way.

We’re giving away tickets. Go here for more info.

DEETS: With Dev and It Boys. The Loft (In the Gilley’s Dallas Complex) , 1135 S. Lamar St. 7:30 p.m. $13–$15. GilleysMusic.com.

—  Rich Lopez