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Mary J. Blige

The Breakthrough (Geffen)

Throughout her career, Mary J. Blige has transformed her misery into listeners' bliss. But even though her life is happier than it was during the bad old days, her current work benefits from sorrowful experience. On The Breakthrough, her triumphs mean more because they were so hard won.

Celebrities have lined up to be part of Blige's latest; those cameoing include Jay-Z, 50 Cent and, thanks to the miracle of technology, the late Nina Simone, whom Blige is set to play in a forthcoming biopic. Not that she needs the help: The only thing wrong with her unexpectedly scorching cover of U2's "One" is the decision to let Bono sing the first verse. And if "Can't Get Enough" smacks of filler, Blige's majestic pipes and indomitable persona make it undeniably compelling.

Blige's memories of past pain linger. "I'm still with you, my sisters -- my troubled sisters," she declares toward the end of "Good Woman Down," adding, "I still have troubles, too." That's unfortunate for her, but a blessing for the rest of us.

 
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