MARY J. BLIGE
With her first two albums singer Mary J. Blige inadvertently helped producer Sean "Puffy" Combs become the hugely influential star he is today. But the two no longer work together, and both have suffered for it. Though he's still prolific, Combs has gotten lazy, too often looping huge chunks of painfully familiar hits (David Bowie's "Let's Dance" or the Police's "Every Breath You Take," to name but two) and contributing little of his own. The late Notorious B.I.G. did OK rapping over such uninspired tracks, but on Combs's debut as Puff Daddy, No Way Out (Bad Boy/Arista), they only emphasize his lack of charisma. On the other hand, on her third and most recent album, Share My World (MCA), Blige proves beyond a reasonable doubt that she's got a superb voice and knows how to use it. But the hodgepodge of hotshot producers she employs (including Jam & Lewis, Babyface, R. Kelly, and Track Masters) doesn't always serve her well. There are some gems, like the bumping "I Can Love You" and the languid "Everything," but too much of the record is bogged down in overripe production and missing the sharp rhythmic edge that's marked her best stuff. Blige performs on a star-studded bill with similarly inclined slow-jam crooners Dru Hill, Ginuwine, and Aaliyah, plus the laconic gangsta choir Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Saturday, 7:30 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison; 312-455-4500 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Kevin Westerberg.