Billboard CD reviews: Mary J. Blige and Jaheim
ARTIST: MARY J. BLIGE
ALBUM: GROWING PAINS
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Now that she's banished the drama and achieved her "Breakthrough," Mary J. Blige is in a good space. Fans used to hearing her pour her pain out on record will just have to get used to that.
The singer's latest effort, "Growing Pains," much like its phenomenal 2005 predecessor "The Breakthrough," focuses more on learning and progressing than dwelling and wallowing. The cheery lead single "Just Fine" finds Blige proclaiming, "No more time for moping around, are you kidding?/And no time for negative vibes, 'cause I'm winning." This happy-go-lucky state sometimes makes for less compelling stories and yields too much flowery empowerment language. But the disc picks up near the end, when Blige allows for venting over more downcast rhythms like the Stargate-produced "Fade Away," where she longs to be invisible, and "Smoke."
ALBUM: THE MAKINGS OF A MAN
Possessing one of the most butter-smooth voices in contemporary R&B, Jaheim returns with his first album for Atlantic. The soulful crooner adopts a more mature, introspective stance, softening the edges of the "thug R&B" tag inspired by his 2001 debut. Among the best songs is "Never," an emotional ballad about commitment that is climbing Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. While slow jams remain Jaheim's forte, he infuses more midtempo flavor here. He trades off nicely with Keyshia Cole on "I've Changed" before serving up the moving autobiographical cut "Back Together Again." Two quibbles: Album opener "Voice of R&B" is a posturing track better left on the editing floor. And does a classic, Bobby Womack's "If You Think You're Lonely Now," really need to be updated ("Lonely") with new lyrics? As a formidable heir to such forebears as Luther Vandross and Barry White, Jaheim doesn't need to travel that route.
ARTIST: LUPE FIASCO
ALBUM: THE COOL Continued...