Alicia Keys created quite a stir the entire summer before her debut album Songs in a Minor hit the record racks with one of the most intense promotional campaigns to have come around since Bruce Springsteen in the early 70’s. That album,which looked to blend Alicia’s mixture of European classical music and American jazz-funk with hip-hop beats wound up being a bit hyped and it’s hit “Fallin” became a bit overplayed and it would’ve been almost easy for Keys to wind up less hip and more hype,if readers here will forgive that lousy slogan. A couple years later Alicia came back with her second album which would make her or break her as the serious musician/singer/songwriter that she always was. This time the promotion was more genuine and she wasn’t as caught up in the “I’m going to save R&B music” kind of manifesto that accompanied her first album. She was therefore more free to be herself and the result is an album that in basic terms cut back on some of the heavier hip-hop beats and concentrating on her ability to craft music like a fine knit sweater.
The tapestry she comes up with here is built a lot more around her piano based chord progressions and her flexible vocal styling’s. Overall it’s a very musicianly album that doesn’t have the immediate commercial appeal you might expect but even on one of it’s most powerful and popular songs “You Don’t Know My Name”,her second big hit actually the music has a finely arranged retro soul flavor with some some beautiful,avant garde jazz styled high piano chordings that give the song it’s hook. I liked the fact she reached outside the pop idiom for the hook on this song-it also matches her high pitched,passionate coos on the refrains. The same flavor crosses over into the spirited medley of “If I Were Your Woman/Walk On By”,”If I Ain’t Got You” and the title song.
The final song “Nobody Not Really” has one of the most intricately chorded piano part since Stevie Wonder’s “I Gotta Have A Song” so basically this consists of immaculately produced and arranged,mid-tempo jazzy soul/funk tunes with some expressive vocal changes and personalized lyrical themes. On the songs that do feature something more of a hip-hop flavor such as “Karma” you have a great song with a very stiff rhythm and that kind of keeps it from being a complete masterpiece. But overall it’s actually one of the closest places Alicia has come to a consistently fully realized album and expresses her artistry for what it was rather than as something that has too much of a deliberate intention behind it.
Originally Posted On August 16th,2010