Album hashtag: #femalesamsmith
At the end of album standout “When You’re Gone”, Grammy-nominated producers Disclosure reveal that Mary has “wanted to write an album like this with someone for a long time”. The aptly-titled ‘London Sessions’ found Mary spending a month in London crafting an album with the duo, #newkidontheblock Sam Smith, and British R&B star Emeli Sande. Executive produced by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, it’s easy to realize that MJB’s ‘Sessions’ is her best album to date since her critically acclaimed sophomore album ‘My Life’. Critics have repeatedly said that Mary is either 1) singing songs that are too happy or 2) reaching too far vocally. Thankfully, hooking up with future Grammy-winner Smith has relieved both issues with the singer, bringing her ‘London Sessions’ experience to the forefront of 2014-15 R&B.
First, despite all of the songs being crafted exceptionally well, the songs that Blige did with Smith are the clear standouts on the album. I’m so glad that Mary called on Sam songwriting duties before Beyonce’, because we all know how that would’ve turned out. Lead single “Right Now” is a kind of underdog midtempo – it starts off slow and builds into a massively unexpected dance groove. At first listen, most of #blacktwitter referred to “Therapy” as being reminiscent of old Negro slave spiritual, but the curative track seems to inspire while promoting mental health as well. “Not Loving You” is one of two somber moments on the album as Blige passionately sings “so what you gonna do now / now that you’re falling, you’re falling down / there’s only so much I can do if you’re not loving you”. Smith isn’t recognized enough for his uptempo songs (a la “Money On My Mind”, “Restart”), but Mary’s “Nobody But You” is a strong radio contender for 2015’s song of the summer if ever released as a single.
And then there are the Emeli tracks “Whole Damn Year’ and “Pick Me Up” – both some of the best vocals throughout Mary’s ‘Sessions’. “Whole Damn Year” paints a strong picture towards the song’s message (overcoming life’s adversities) while attempting to move forward at the same time. The “Year” visual expands this concept to include domestic violence and forms of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse – all things that Mary sings passionately from experience. “Pick Me Up” has elements of jazz and trance-pop with its catchy radio-friendly arrangement. Although it’s not the typical Blige radio single, “Up” is sonically different from most of her other fast songs which could become a #darkhorse on the dance charts.
Before the album was even officially released, however, Mary reached out to Disclosure for beats. They first collaborated on the remix to ‘Settle’ standout “F For You” – a collaboration that will most likely win them a Grammy at this year’s upcoming ceremony. The duo’s feature on Blige’s ‘Sessions’ is “Follow”, which sounds like any other Disclosure production despite being extremely well-produced. Its because of productions like these that ‘The London Sessions’ succeeds on every front. Most of the album does a great job of harnessing Mary’s timeless vocal alongside the best British sounds. But any album that’s more than halfway written and produced by Sam Smith should be revered as pure greatness – plain and simple.