Picks and Pans Review: Mary J. Blige

updated 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Breakthrough

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"All I really want is to be happy/And to find a love that's mine, it would be so sweet." So sang Mary J. Blige, back when she knew nothing but drama, on her 1994 hit "Be Happy." Since then, though, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has found her king, marrying music producer Kendu Isaacs in 2003. And on her seventh studio album—and first since becoming Mrs. Isaacs—she wants you to know that she is truly happy at last, a point she makes right from the get-go on the midtempo opener "No One Will Do": "Seen many men in my time/But none of them compare to mine/I ain't got to knock on wood/To tell y'all that I got it so good." On other tracks, such as "Can't Hide from Luv" (featuring the supposedly retired Jay-Z) and the Arethaesque highlight "I Found My Everything," she testifies with gospel fervor about the power of real love. However, the sweet sentiments of romantic ballads like "Can't Get Enough" feel too gooey for the gritty Blige. While she spends much of this disc celebrating her personal Breakthrough, Blige hasn't forgotten about her fans still in the struggle, especially on the uplifting "Good Woman Down." Meanwhile, the bitter "Ain't Really Love" inspires one of her most impassioned performances, proving that a little drama can go a long way.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Found My Everything"

ROCK

My Morning Jacket Z

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Named after the final letter of the alphabet, the stellar fourth studio outing from this Louisville, Ky., quintet actually represents a brand-new beginning for the band. Much like Wilco did with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, My Morning Jacket has made a sonic leap from its previous work, expanding beyond jam-heavy southern rock with genre-defying gusto. In an era of 99 cent downloadable singles, Z is a throwback to a time when albums were an aural journey. With haunting singer Jim James serving as tour guide, the trip kicks off with the slow groove of "Wordless Chorus," picks up speed with the locomotive build of "Gideon" and comes to a melancholy close with "Dondante," an eight-minute gem about a friend's suicide. It all leaves you suffering from the one big drawback of every great adventure: You don't want it to end.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Gideon"

REGGAE

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