Alicia Keys is an artist whom myself and Henrique both have similar thoughts on. Both of us agree that she possesses the musical talent and understanding to be a major soul/funk/ jazz force for the new millennium. That being said,her albums have generally focused on instrumentally dressed up pop piano ballads-with simplistic notes that (quite frankly) do disservice to Keys’ musical abilities. Since this is such a common approach now with artists such as Sam Smith,Adele and John Legend,it even came as a surprise to me that on her November 2016 album release HERE,Alicia Keys musical vision has begun to change.
One of the first steps towards this change was Alicia Keys decision to not wear makeup for the time being. She saw the focus on the affectations of her appearance as getting in the way of her musical talent. As a natural beauty both without and (most importantly) within, Keys’ choice is a very admirable one. This year,with the Knowles sisters Beyonce and Solange both making powerful pro black album statements,Keys made a comeback with a very similar vibe to it overall. Generally a rather stripped down jazzy album, HERE is also home to a very powerful opening song called “The Gospel”.
Keys starts singing to a piano riff that,while playing in the European classical meter,is deep in the blues pentatonic scale. She adds some honky tonk style reverb when the drums kick in. These drums are mixed somewhat higher than the piano-playing a very strident march. Keys sings the song in a fast,modern rap type rhythmic style. On the refrains,she chants “yeah yeah yeah” in the gospel soul style similar to the vocal harmonies on Funkadelic’s 1971 groove “You And Your Folks,Me And My Folks”. This is the pattern within the song that repeats until fade out.
“The Gospel” is a tense,brittle song. And its about tense times. Musically,its very much like a modern early 70’s funky soul inspired hip-hop record-especially with it being based around a pounding,extended vamp. Lyrically,its very much of a revisit of similar themes to Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. Since this is not an instrumental opus with many complex parts,it focuses on a lyrical setup that doesn’t so much offer hope. But rather it paints a picture of lower class black life and a call to protest-asking “if you ain’t in the battle,how you gon’ win the fight?”. This makes it a very different type of Alicia Keys song.