Alicia Keys: As I Am

They certainly broke the mold when they made Alicia Keys. While her third studio album As I Am [J Records] comes long awaited, it’s more than another blessed offering from the New York City songstress. As I Am is exactly as the title suggests – Alicia in her barest form, much more, nothing less. Songs In A Minor was a brilliant, albeit unexpected debut in the budding career of Miss A. Keys. When “Fallin’” hit the airwaves, it was a shock to the system, given her arrival at a time when we lost all faith in singer/songwriters. Her unique style and heartfelt sound placed her in the running as R&B’s “it” girl, not to mention Clive Davis’ shining star. By The Diary of Alicia Keys, we were absorbed with her homegrown talent, as songs like “Diary” and “Karma” harbored strong melodies and less focus on who Alicia should be, rather who she was as a developing superstar. Movies, books, and nine Grammys later, we’re still trying to get close to Alicia…until now. As I Am is free of any preconceived label-fied notions of what a classic R&B album should sound like. That’s probably due in part to Alicia’s management of her masters up until weeks before the release. Opting for bundles of slow to mid-tempo records, Alicia’s focus is more lyrical, supported by this newly intensified tone in her vocals. She might not be specific about what broke her down in recent years, but it’s quite obvious through her pipes that she’s suffered, and we feel her through every note. While the topic of choice for As I Am is love, it manifests itself in various forms throughout the album. Despite its mixed reviews, “No One” is the most obvious proof of Alicia’s desire to sing her heart out. While her harmonies are far more dulled than her traditional cooing, it comes together beautifully over hard-hitting drums, keyboards, and guitars. Her follow-up “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” is an unlikely second single, but this is A. Keys, and she does what she wants (strangely it always works out). “Superwoman” hosts a church organ ode to strong women, while “Lesson Learned” (featuring John Mayer) begins slowly and later erupts with emotion as Alicia sings, “Yes, I was burned, but I called it a lesson learned.” From young “Wreckless Love” in a “Teenage Love Affair” to the horn-heavy “I Need You,” As I Am presents an Alicia that we’re meeting for the first time. Whether a permanent transition or merely a one-time therapeutic work, Alicia does it like no one can.