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Album Review: Alicia Keys - "As I Am"

Powerful R&B

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)

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Album Review: Alicia Keys -

Album cover © J Records.

Some people are just so great at what they do that they not only excel in their field, they make everyone else doing the same thing - even experts - seem like amateurs by comparison. Just like Michael Jordan excelled in the field of basketball, just like Denzel Washington is one of America's greatest actors, just like Maya Angelou is an incredible poet, Alicia Keys is tops at what she does. And most other singers, even those who are above average, pale in comparison. Evidence of this is inherent throughout Alicia's third studio album, As I Am, which is probably the most powerful R&B release of 2007.

Beautiful & Pure

In every note she sings in her songs and in every note she plays on her piano, you can feel Alicia Keys. She sings with a purity and conviction that others can only dream about. Exhibit A: the album's first single, the surprise radio hit "No One."
"You and me together through the days and nights, I don't worry 'cause everything's gonna be alright," she sings with force. "People keep talkin,' they can say what they like, all I know is everything's gonna be alright ... No one can get in the way of what I'm feeling."

The song is such a beautiful, passionate ode to true love and perseverance that after listening to it, you indeed get the feeling that Alicia would move heaven and Earth - or die trying - to keep her spiritual connection to her man. Another of the album's most passionate songs is the transcendent "Superwoman," an inspirational ode to the power of females, particularly the inner power:
"For all the mothers fighting for better days to come, And all my women, all my women sitting here trying to come home before the sun, And all my sisters coming together say 'yes I will,' 'yes I can,'" she sings.
What's most impressive about the songs - and about the album as a whole, in fact - is that Alicia manages to find a whole new, refreshing way to sing about topics that hundreds of thousands of singers before her her tackled since the time music was invented.

Image © J Records.

Alicia isn't chasing stylistic trends, she's creating trends and then gets to sit back and watch as less talented artists play catch up and/or clone her style. If you've heard "No One," then you get the gist of what the tone and feel of the album is like. There's no trendy production, no songs that are transparent, desperate attempts at radio hits, and no guest rappers. In fact, the only guest vocalist on the album at all is John Mayer, who provides some very generic and forgettable backing vocals on "Lesson Learned."

Alicia sounds wiser and more mature on this album, but at the same time has managed to maintain a youthful vitality that separates her from other 'serious' R&B artists like John Legend and Jill Scott. Although this is already her fourth album (including her 2005 live acoustic album Unplugged, she's still only 27 years old. And although she doesn't make hip-hop music, she grew up as part of the hip-hop generation that grew up never experiencing what the world was like before rap music existed.

And although that sensibility showed up from time to time in her previous albums, this is the first of her releases that's almost completely entrenched in R&B and Soul music. It's just Alicia, her piano and a few uncomplicated chords that are beautiful in their simplicity. And as it turns out, these three things together are better than anything almost any other R&B artist could deliver in 2007.

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