She's had some good times, but mostly they've been bad times. And by the time you've checked Mary J. Blige go through the motions in Live From Los Angeles, you know she's had her share of both.
Live From Los Angeles is essentially a document of the Love And Life world tour of this year that promoted the album of the same name. From the opening skit, Mary is keen to impress that she is here representin' for the fans. Only the fans know what she's been goin' through, only the fans understand her pain. After 90 minutes or so of slick, state-of-the-art adult R'n'B, I'm still none-the-wiser, which I guess qualifies me as a non-fan.
Still, it has to be said, that Mary's lookin' good. Wisely avoiding the dancehall outfit she donned for the Love & Life cover photo, Mary's trim and ain't shy about keeping up with her buff dancers. It might be the result of some favourable editing, but Bligey respectfully keeps up the moves for the breathless opening salvo of endorphin-stirring funked-up balladry.
Despite the critical kudos netted since her Sean 'Puffy' Combs-produced debut What's The 411, Mary's appeal lies not in the tricks 'n' flicks of specialist producers, but in the internal psychodrama that only a Queen Bee of R'n'B can respectfully muster. To some it may be a soap opera, but to others Mary is currently wearing the Royal crown that is up for grabs in the absence of Aretha.
Love And Life saw a reunion with the P. Diddy man, but the revue-style Live From Los Angeles, reverberates with the go-go chops of Chuck Brown or Trouble Funk. Luckily, Mary makes sure she's the star of the show. This means guitarist's Shon Hinton's tendency to go Carlos Santana on us is mercifully caught short, and double ditto for the keyboardist's Shakatak leanings.
But make no mistake, Live From Los Angeles is about Mary, just Mary. The material may lack differentiation (there are seven songs with the word 'love' in the title - go on, count 'em), but the voice, underrated in some quarters, flexes and shifts in a dozen directions throughout, avoiding the shrieking histrionics favoured by lesser Aguileras.
It ain't for everyone. Unless you're a very certain kind of fella, guys, you better check your testosterone at the door, 'cause the laydeez, they be sufferin'. And it's mainly because of your sorry, no good, ass. Too ghetto to be truly camp, there are some great ditching songs ( spesh' It's A Wrap), soul-searching insight ( Not Gon' Cry), and elemental catharsism (the epic No More Drama).
Mary was largely responsible for toughening up mainstream R'n'B, and winning respect back from Hip-Hop. Without talking about the house she lives in , and the shoes on her feet, she's become the diva's diva. Despite her work for charidee, Mary J Blige may be just a tad self-obsessed, but the fans to whom Live From Los Angeles is dedicated will find it difficult to care less.