Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions

Soul star has a midcareer breakthrough across the pond

Mary J. Blige's 2011 album My Life II didn't exactly recapture the mojo of her classic 1994 original. So, after a Christmas album and a soundtrack, the R&B royal headed to London to record this proper follow-up – a smart move, considering that Brits from Amy Winehouse to Adele to Sam Smith have made some of the best soul music of the past decade. The reboot works: Disclosure take Mary to the club with deep-house grooves on "Right Now" and "Follow," while the gospel-blues testimony "Therapy" (one of four songs co-written by Smith) takes her to church. And on tracks like the Emeli Sandé collaboration "Whole Damn Year" – a classic MJB ballad – Blige brings a little bit of Yonkers to the U.K.