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Mary J. Blige

My Life II ... The Journey Continues (Act 1)

Geffen

Buy if you like: Alicia Keys, Jill Scott

As the title suggests, this is Mary J. Blige's sequel to her second album, 1994's My Life. (Or, at least, Act 1 of it.) The album opens on a self-serving note, as the neo-soul diva talks about how much the original album meant to fans and how she really had to bring her best if she was going to do a sequel. Fortunately, Blige mostly delivers on her promise. Despite a few pedestrian tunes like "Don't Mind" and "Next Level" (with Busta Rhymes), Blige strikes an emotional chord with dramatic songs like "Midnight Drive," "No Condition" and the standout "Empty Prayers." But she also lightens up now and then, as on the slamming up-tempo "Ain't Nobody" and the richly melodic mid-tempo "25/8." Such upbeat numbers suggest Blige is in a better place than she once was, while still tapping into the classic soul sound that's been her life's work. — Alan Sculley

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Willie Nile

The Innocent Ones

River House Records

Buy if you like: The Del-Lords, the Gaslight Anthem

Willie Nile never got success he deserved in the states, the reason this album, released in Europe in 2010, is only now coming out in America. Although his output has at times been sporadic in a 30-year career, Nile's albums are filled with passionate, hook-laden rock in the vein of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. This continues the tradition, opening on the exuberant "Singin' Bell," a standout rocker filled with ringing chords and plenty of energy, moving on to brisk and fervent anthems like "Hear You Breathe," the humorous "Can't Stay Home" and the strutting stomp of "Topless Amateur." Nile succeeds in adding a taste of country to the mix with "Rich and Broken." Whatever delayed the U.S. release of The Innocent Ones, it clearly had nothing to do with the quality of this set from a still-vital artist. — Alan Sculley

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R.E.M.

Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011

Warner Bros.

Buy if you like: Patti Smith, Big Star

The package sticker for R.E.M.'s finale, a greatest-hits double disc, touts "Radio Free Europe," "The One I Love," "Losing My Religion," "Man on the Moon" and "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" But there are other incredible tracks here, from gorgeous melodies of "Fall on Me" and "Everybody Hurts," to fizzy pop-rockers like "Stand" and "It's the End of the World As We Know It." Three new offerings — "A Month of Saturdays," "We All Go Back to Where We Belong" and "Hallelujah" — hold their own next to the classics. "Saturdays," with its funky little electro-bass line, is a great dance-club tune, while on "Belong," horns gently punctuate the melody as Michael Stipe sings, "Is this what you really want?" Actually, a reunion would be good, but if not, this makes a fine goodbye gift. Thanks, guys. — Lynne Margolis

  • Mary J. Blige, Willie Nile, R.E.M.

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