Except for the gritty "Sincerity," which features guest appearances from rappers DMX and Nas, the music on Blige's fourth studio album evokes a more soul-stirring, straightforward R&B; attitude than the hip-hop/R&B; hybrid of her earlier collections.
The New York singer-songwriter still emphasizes relationship issues, but the emotion oozing from her vocals makes you empathize more than ever with her setbacks during the various stages of her quest for Mr. Right.
Despite quality songwriting and production assists from Babyface, Diane Warren and others, the power of "Mary" is more in how Blige sings the songs than the songs themselves.
It's almost as if her voice grabs you and refuses to let you go until she's finished sharing her thoughts.
That's a powerful attribute, and the lively, supple instrumentation only adds to the force of her already dominating delivery.
Blige, whose list of guest artists on the album includes Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and Elton John, may not be as accomplished a writer or producer as Lauryn Hill (who produced one of the album's tracks), but strictly as a singer she remains at the very top of the '90s hip-hop soul world.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).