It may be twisted to say, but personal pain, anguish and drama are intrinsic to Mary J. Blige's best art. With her messy divorce providing a back story, her 13th release, Strength Of A Woman, sees Blige performing with an urgency and conviction that was lacking in previous efforts like 2014's Think Like A Man Too and that same year's impressive yet somewhat uneven The London Sessions.
"There's a special place in hell for you," she proclaims on the jazzy, slow burning recrimination of "Set Me Free," and much of the lyrical territory on Woman captivates without succumbing to soap opera histrionics. The Kanye-assisted "Love Yourself" has one of the oldest truisms in romantic relationships, with its chorus of "You Gotta Love Yourself Before You Love Someone Else," but the sample of the SCLC Operation Breadbasket Orchestra and Choir's "Nobody Knows" turns it into a near martial declaration.
"Tell The Truth," featuring Kaytranada, and the electronic chill of "Survivor" are vibrant snapshots of resiliency in the face of romantic devastation, while the electro-funk soaked reassurance of "Find The Love" and the fantastic closer "Hello Father" (which co-opts Stevie Wonder's "Jesus Children Of America") seek solace in the good groove and spirituality, respectively. A few duds like the repetitive "Glow Up" and the sappy duet with Prince Charlez "Smile" aside, Strength Of A Woman is Blige's finest offering in over a decade. (Capitol)