May 19, 1997 12:00 PM

Mary J. Blige

If there were any doubts that Mary J. Blige has the goods to become one of R&B’s most important female singers, they are quickly dispelled on “Love Is All We Need,” the first single from her third CD. Brilliantly produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the song is a muscular ode to the power of commitment. With rapper Nas adding encouragement, Mary J. dives deep into the song’s dense grooves with a tone that’s alternately raw and rugged and then as clear as a spring day. Like much of this excellent CD, it’s a perfect blend of attitude and straight-up skill.

Working with a slew of A-list producers, including Babyface (Waiting to Exhale’s jilted woman’s manifesto “Not Gon’ Cry” is reprised here), the currently hot Track Masters and R. Kelly, Mary J. effortlessly shifts gears from fly-girl throw-downs to sultry love songs without breaking a press-on nail. More importantly, in an era of faceless singers and rent-a-beats, she’s got songs and producers who never overshadow that stunning voice. Some might gripe that the overall sound is more polished than on her two previous multi-platinum CDs—and it is—but as she aims for the mainstream, Mary J. Blige is no less determined or soulful. (MCA)

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