Mary J. Blige and Opinions on The Decemberists

Mary-J-Blige

Mary J. Blige, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, joins Jim and Greg for a conversation about her two decades in music, keeping it real on American Idol and hopping across the pond to record her new album The London Sessions. Later, Jim and Greg review the new release from Portland folk-rock group The Decemberists.

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Move over Elvis, there’s a new king in town and that king...is a cowboy. Garth Brooks once again surpassed Elvis Presley as the best-selling solo artist of all time in the U.S., selling 135 million units. Brooks is thoroughly beating his competition, as the number two country artist on the list is George Strait at only 69 million units. While Garth reigns supreme in the solo category, The Beatles are the best-selling music act with 178 million units.

In other news, Universal Music Group filed a lawsuit against two companies that distribute mixtapes to individuals in prisons claiming licensing infringement. The defendants argued that their efforts were to prevent contraband within prisons, however it looks like they could be spending more time fighting the law than their consumers.

The punk band Stereofire Empire found a missing painting in the New Orleans House of Blues that was worth $250,000. One member of the group was an art collector and recognized the stolen item. While they returned it (ala the Scooby Doo gang), the culprit is still at large.

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Mary J. Blige

With album titles like My Life, No More Drama and Stronger with Each Tear, Mary J. Blige’s music reads like an autobiography chronicling her pain and her joy. And now she’s added a British chapter to her life. Mary’s 13th release The London Sessions captures her 21-day long residency at a London studio where she collaborated with some of the best young artists in the British soul and club scene—names like Sam Smith, Emeli Sande and house duo Disclosure. The result harkens back to old doo wop and soul, but it’s also completely fresh. And of course, it’s as honest and vulnerable as what we’d expect from the veteran singer. Ever since her breakout with 1991’s What’s the 411, produced by Sean Combs, music has been MJB’s Therapy, as she sings on the new record. This is especially true of 1994’s My Life, which spoke to her abusive relationship wtih K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci. And on the positive side, 2005’s The Breakthrough was inspired by finding love with Kendu Issacs, her husband/manager of 11 years.

The King Is Dead The Decemberists

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

Portlandfolk-rock band The Decemberists has steadily ascended the ranks of rock stardom over their career, even hitting #1 on the Billboard charts with their previous album The King Is Dead. But it’s been four years since that record dropped, and in the intervening period the band has developed a new diversity in their sound. Their new album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World experiments with a variety of pop styles not found in previous records, while still featuring the trademark hyperliterate lyrics of leader Colin Meloy. Greg is happy to hear the band in top form, nicely complemented by the harmony vocals of Rachel Flotard and Kelly Hogan. Jim loves how they manage to flirt with the prog rock sounds of Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer without a hint of pretentiousness, all thanks to Meloy’s self-deprecating sense of humor. Both critics give it a Buy It, with Jim going so far as to call it the first masterpiece of 2015.

Jim

After hearing the news that fellow music critic Sasha Frere-Jones was stepping down from his post at The New Yorker, Jim was reminded of Frere-Jones’s own band Ui. Ui was active throughout the 1990’s as part of the so-called post-rock scene, experimenting with strange instrumentation including electronics, banjos, tubas, and multiple bass guitars. In 1998, Ui collaborated with another of Jim’s favorites, Stereolab, under the moniker Uilab and recorded an EP of deconstructed covers of St. Elmo’s Fire by (who else?) Brian Eno. The combination of Eno’s songwriting, Laetitia Sadier’s wonderful vocals, and Ui’s trancelike performance add up to a DeRogatis triple threat, making it Jim’s Desert Island Jukebox pick of the week.

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