dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Mary J. Blige Working With Disclosure, Sam Smith, Naughty Boy On 'The London Sessions'

I've never bought a Mary J. Blige album, though I've picked up a few of her singles here and there. But if ever there was a time to grab one of her full LPs, it seems like the upcoming one, The London Sessions, would be it.

Blige spent a month in London making the record, having been inspired by the sounds of Disclosure (she already appeared on a reworked version of their single "F For You") and Sam Smith (ditto with "Stay With Me"). Now she's gone into the RAK studio with what seems like a Who's Who of the British pop-house scene at the moment.

Below are excerpts from a pretty decent Guardian feature that was published yesterday:
With her vocal duties done, Blige comes into the mixing room to listen to the playbacks, sinking into a sofa next to the project's American executive producer, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, a don of the production world who has worked most notably with Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Aside from the song, the two also appear keen to talk about food, and in particular fish and chips, the consumption of which Blige feels is central to what she calls "the London-scene experience". [Jimmy] Napes meanwhile is in the RAK kitchen, which has hosted the tea breaks of everything from Radiohead's The Bends to Kim Wilde's Kids in America. I ask him how he came to be part of the album.

"It has been a little bit surreal to be honest," he says, 'I grew up listening to Mary J Blige, and then there she is with the Disclosure boys in Kentish Town, where my studio is, next to a car park. She had loved Stay With Me, which I wrote with Sam Smith for his album, and that's how I got the opportunity to work on this project. We were writing for a week or so – we've got some wicked songs. It does take time to get the confidence to say to her, 'I think you can sing that better' – but it's crucial. She is counting on me to call her on stuff, because she wants to make the best record she can."

It is certainly not an out-and-out house record. Pick Me Up, produced by Watford's own Naughty Boy and co-written with Emeli Sandé, mixes sub-bass with clarinet and a percussion sound that recalls early 00s UK garage. Therapy, written by Napes and Sam Smith, has a doo-wop feel, while the Disclosure number is house plus additional squelches. Disparate as the writers and producers may be, Jerkins agrees that these all sound unquestionably like Mary J Blige tracks: 'She knows how to cement her voice to the lyric. She knows how to make you know what she's been through." The feeling that she conveys of a life lived though all its triumphs and defeats is certainly at the heart of Blige's sound.

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