Songs in A Minor

Many young female singers court the tweenie market by exaggerating their girlish charms, but twenty-year-old Alicia Keys sings for adults. Showing a maturity beyond her years, this New York newcomer's largely self-produced debut suggests down-home R&B contemporaries like Jill Scott as well as yesteryear's soul sophisticates. She's not at the level of her heroes yet: Keys penned much of Songs in A Minor in high school, and the singing is more mature than the self-consciously retro arrangements and sometimes thin sonics. Still, there's no denying the serious early Aretha vibe permeating the current hit "Fallin' " or the authority with which Keys rips into Prince's beloved B-side ballad, "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore." Jermaine Dupri's typically slinky "Girlfriend" steers her into contemporary hip-hop mode, while elsewhere, complex jazz harmonies and organic instrumentation complement her commanding presence. Keys is a discovery of pop impresario Clive Davis, and his orchestrating hand sometimes weighs heavily over this album; but Keys is never upstaged, and we're only beginning to see the depth of her talent.

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