Mary J. Blige

Smart: Mary's command at the beginning of her take on Luther Vandross's "Never Too Much" — "Gimme that guitar, like the original joint" — is obeyed. Not smart: The cover eschews the disco 4/4 beat for a wafer-thin break that sounds geriatric compared to the adult-friendly (albeit brilliant) original. Mary, though, keeps it transcendent: During the ad libs, her lungs open as wide as heaven must have when Big Luther came knocking.

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Rich Juzwiak

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