Mary J. Blige just keeps getting better.

On "Stronger With Each Tear" (Matriarch / Geffen), the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul takes the esteem-building, female-empowerment lyrics she has been cultivating in recent years to the next level by taking more chances with her musical surroundings.

The elegant touch of Ne-Yo adds some bounce to "I Feel Good," while the disco horn flourishes brighten the mood of "Good Love," which also makes good use of a T.I. cameo. "I Love (Yes I Do)" gets a space-age disco vibe from producer Polow Da Don, while Rodney Jerkins strips away everything but a clap track and a few bloops and bleeps to let Blige shine on "The One."

Of course, Blige wouldn't drop a new joint without a big, midtempo R&B ballad and "Stronger" has its share of amazing ones.

"I Am," the current single, has smash written all over it, delivering in the way that "Be With You" did while embodying Blige's newfound balance of self-esteem and devotion. "Each Tear" is just as grand, the kind of broad, potent anthem that Alicia Keys needed for her album. "You're not defined by your pain, so let it go," she sings. "You're not a victim, you're more like a winner. You're not in defeat, you're more like a queen."

It's such a thrill to hear Blige thrive on "Stronger With Each Tear," using her struggles to not only inform her passionate delivery but to inspire her fans as well.

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MARY J. BLIGE: "Stronger With Each Tear"

THE GRADE: A-

BOTTOM LINE A new kind of empowered female R&B