R& B singer/songwriter Alicia Keys’ sophomore disc The Diary of Alicia Keys
(J Records) continues the confessional tone of her major label debut Songs in A Minor
native Keys saw her first album go multi-platinum setting off a frenzy among music media outlets who were quick to label her as the queen of R&B.
The critics agreed and the young singer walked away with a boat load of Grammys for her first effort. It’s usually predicted that anyone who reaches such meteoric heights so quickly and so early in their career can only expect to go crashing down on their next outing. Happily, though Keys escapes the sophomore slump on her second album with another stirring set of songs.
An accomplished pianist, Keys isn’t afraid to hail the ghosts of classical music to give her album a lift in the right direction. Starting off with an instrumental piece call “Harlem’s Nocturne”, the songbird tinkles the ivories in a way that recalls the energy and rhythm of her large-scale urban home turf. As the piece comes to a close, you get the feeling that she has perfectly combined the personal and universal aspects of city’s sounds into a piece that can connect not only with her fans, but with any music devotee.
Getting back to her usual groove on the R&B flavored track “Karma”, Keys demonstrates how easy it is to put her on the list of all time greats despite her young age. When the chorus of “what goes up must come down” hits backed by what sounds like a full orchestra, it’s obvious that any attempt to pigeon-hole this young woman into one specific genre is futile. She effortlessly rolls hip hop and classic rhythm and blues into a startling new sound.
Turning towards her more personal side, Keys offers up songs such as “You Don’t Know My Name” where the singer casts herself in the role of a waitress with a crush on an attractive customer “in a blue suit”. After lamenting about how he never notices her, Keys’ girl power kicks in and she approaches him – with successful results of course.
Another tracks that leans towards the sentimental side of love is a stirring tune called “If I Ain’t Got You”. This is arguably the album’s best song and features one of those “once in a lifetime” vocal performances that is both sultry and vulnerable at the same time.
Alicia Keys also has a bit of a steamy side to her and while songs such as “Heartburn” and “Dragon Days” are decent examples of an artist trying to stretch, they are less successful. The Diary of Alicia Keys is a long album and when you have 15 tracks, there’s bound to be a few who would have been better served by waiting for the next time around.
“Heartburn” is definitely one of those songs. “Dragon Day” as a stand alone isn’t a bad song. It’s more quirky than the usual Alicia Keys offering, but it’s aggressive style seems out of place on what is largely a soulful album.
All in all, The Diary of Alicia Keys is nothing less than an intriguing peek into the heart and soul of one of the music world’s top singer/songwriters.