Mary J. Blige, "Stronger withEach Tear"
Like fine wine and Brett Favre, some things just get better with time. Another example: Mary J. Blige. On her ninth studio album, "Stronger withEach Tear," the soulful chanteuse struts confidently through a tight set of 12 songs about love, devotion and inner strength that leans more midtempo than ballad; more uplifting than angst-ridden. Hip-hop/pop lead single "I Am" perfectly captures the album's overall mood: Blige has never been in better voice-or more adventurous. The metaphor-rich "Kitchen" ("Never let a girl cook in your kitchen") finds the singer/songwriter wittily admonishing would-be man-stealers. Despite pleasing hookups (T.I. on "Good Love," Trey Songz on "Hood Love"), unadulterated Blige remains the drawing card. That's especially evident on another midtempo charmer, "I Feel Good" ("Like the moon is shining just for me/I feel just too damn good"). A Blige album wouldn't be complete, however, without a heart-wrenching, emotional tug, which is supplied here with the poignant "I Can See in Color" from the "Precious" soundtrack. Throughout "Stronger withEach Tear," Blige solidly reinforces why she endures as a fan favorite. -Gail Mitchell