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Soul Express Album of the Month

January 2004

ALICIA KEYS – The Diary Of Alicia Keys
(US J Records, 2003)

Harlem’s Nocturne – Karma – Heartburn – If I Was Your Woman / Walk On By – You Don’t Know My Name – If I Ain’t Got You – Diary (feat. Tony! Toni! Toné!) – Dragon Days – Wake Up – So Simple – When You Really Love Someone – Feeling U, Feeling Me (interlude) – Slow Down – Samsonite Man – Nobody Not Really

"Songs In A Minor" was a massive hit album and instantly shot this young Lady to mega-stardom. I was not 100% enthralled with the album but could see that what we had here was an amazing young singing / songwriting / production talent here and her "Troubles" and "Rock Wit U" songs more than cut the mustard for me, especially the latter which featured the direction of Isaac Hayes with his funky Isaac Hayes Movement. This, her follow up set has far exceeded my expectations.
I heard the single, "You Don’t Know My Name" on Radio 2 whilst driving to work and I was gobsmacked. This was an immensely strong record and I had to have the album on the strength of that single alone. This song really has its feet in the sweet soul harmonics of the 1970s, and that isn’t surprising when the Main Ingredient have been very cleverly sampled in the background. I am no fan of this sampling business – ‘bastardisation’ I call it, but give credit where it is due – this really is a grand job and not a blatant rip-off of the original song.
Alicia really should have been flexing her chops a generation ago; she really has her sensibilities back in the 1970s and proves it yet again on the FUNKY "Heartburn" which has every element from the Blaxpoitation period that you could wish to hear. I can hear Norman Whitfield overseeing Gladys Knight in doing this style, possibly Gwen McCrae or The Sisters Love. Great stuff.
The aforementioned single uses an interpolation of "Let Me Prove My Love To You" and as I say is just great. The young Lady’s delicious ivory tinkling gently leads us into the downtempo and basic "If I Ain’t Got You" – again, proving beyond doubt that Alicia has accrued experience well beyond her youth. Classy indeed.
Another KILLER song features our old friends Tony! Toni! Toné! on the heavenly laid back 80s sounding number, "Diary", which is a sexy, sensuous song that promises and delivers much from the first opening scaled bars. Moving past a few bland hip-hop orientated tracks we hit another strong but modern cut in the vein of "A Woman’s Worth" which is "When You Really Love Someone". This song may not immediately hit you, but believe me – play this a few times and you will love it. It is steeped in anticipation, is dramatic and floaty all in the same breath.
The next moment from Alicia is very, very special indeed … and if only it was tagged onto the beginning of "Diary"! It is simply two minutes seven seconds of spine-tingling Fender Rhodes heaven. This is clearly a throwback to the handicraft of Dexter Wansel on his "Life On Mars" album. There is a definitive Philadelphia International underpinning here. Somewhere, also, in the melody is a taste of Deniece Williams’ "Sweet Surrender" –again a Philly feel of Thom Bell. Patrice Rushen also comes to mind.
This young Lady certainly is developing into a powerhouse of a talent – as long as she keeps to the upmarket end of the street rather than being lured by the crass world of contemporary urban R&B we shall be OK. Alicia is a beautiful, beautiful girl and has so much talent and confidence to boot – and my message to her regarding her single release - if Michael doesn’t play ball with you, you can phone me up and I couldn’t care less if you’re wearing your waitress uniform or a potato sack. I’ll be there – traffic permitting!!! Excellent stuff.
- Barry Towler

Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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