Mary J. Blige
“My Life II ... The Journey Continues (Act I)”
Mary J. Blige’s new album, “My Life II . . .the Journey Continues (Act 1),” starts off the same way that her classic 1994 album, “My Life,” did — with a few words of wisdom from the rap sage Diddy, whom Blige charmingly still refers to as “Puff.” The man who helped engineer Blige’s career cautions her about revisiting the “My Life” concept some 17 years after that album’s amazing success. “ ‘My Life’ is a classic, so if you do it, you gotta come with it, girl,” he advises. Blige then attempts to explain that “My Life II” is not meant to eclipse “My Life” but rather to serve as “a sequel,” documenting how she has gradually learned to cope better with life’s ups and downs. But navigating life’s adversities in a healthy, mature way doesn’t exactly sound like the blueprint for a phenomenal R&B album, let alone one meant to be a follow-up to one of the most emotionally wrenching, honest R&B albums of the past couple of decades. (Sarah Godfrey)
The self-titled debut album by Escortdoes double duty in taking listeners back to past eras. The more recent time is the mid-2000s, when the band helped set the buzz template for the rest of the decade by emerging from Brooklyn with songs best digested in the single-serving MP3 format. But mostly Escort evokes the golden age of Studio 54 with a thrilling disco sound that gracefully sidesteps straight homage, making it appropriate for all dance floors, not just in clubs hosting ’70s flashback nights.
There were high hopes for Escort after a string of sweaty singles and a much-ballyhooed live show in which the core duo of Dan Balis and Eugene Cho expanded to a 17-member “disco orchestra.” After a few years mostly off the map, Escort’s surprising return finds it not missing a beat — the majority of “Escort” consists of the band’s previously released singles. But the songs have been sent back for more seasoning and sound better than ever in all the right disco ways — fuller, brighter, bouncier and just a bit cheesier. The snare cracks, guitar chug-a-lugs and keyboard whooshes all burst with vibrancy on “Starlight,” while “Bright New Life” is both heavily funky and breezy at the same time. (David Malitz)
“Break the Spell”
It’s not necessarily an insult to point out that Chris Daughtry, frontman of the band Daughtry and “American Idol’s” most famous fourth-place finisher, doesn’t have a core.
Daughtry is a mainstream rock star with a highly developed sense of self-seriousness (he makes Chris Cornell seem like Jumbo the Rodeo Clown) and a God-given gift for hooks. A core, which is to say a firm sense of self that would render him impervious to trends, would only get in the way.
“Break the Spell,” his third and possibly best disc, isn’t embarrassed to try a little bit of everything. It essentially offers one song, served a dozen different ways: Here it is as a mid-tempo ballad (“Start of Something Good,” made in the image of his earlier, irresistible hit “Home”). Here it is as a mid-tempo rocker (“Spaceship”). Here it is with a faint whiff of Three Doors Down (“Crazy”). (Allison Stewart)