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R&B - Released December 18, 2020 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released June 5, 2001 | J Records - Legacy

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R&B - Released October 11, 2005 | J Records

Forget that it's awfully hard to call this live recording Unplugged. Unlike the early installments of the MTV series, which focused on a performer accompanied only with an acoustic guitar, resulting in unsurprisingly simple affairs, Alicia Keys' Unplugged is big, splashy, and immodest -- even if her guitarist is playing acoustic and she plays a piano, not a synth, the extra vocalists, horn section, strings, and full rhythm section complete with electric bass makes this anything but "unplugged." But that doesn't really matter, since this is presented and marketed as a live album more than an acoustic record, and, as a live album, it's OK. Certainly, Keys and her 16 supporting musicians are professionals and they deliver tight, polished grooves, giving her plenty of space to improv and vamp, which is in contrast to her controlled studio albums. But that's not the only way Unplugged differs from Keys' other two albums. This, more than either Songs in A Minor or The Diary, illustrates why Alicia Keys fits into the post-hip-hop soul world: she places groove and feel above the song. Nowhere is this more evident than her version here of Prince's "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore" (which she straightens out and truncates to "How Come You Don't Call Me") where she speeds along to the bridge after singing the first verse, then just dispenses with the song altogether, spending the rest of the time vamping, occasionally going back to the bridge. Since she sounds good and the band sounds good, this works pretty well on a sheer sonic level -- it's good late-night mood music -- but there's no sense of storytelling or momentum to her performances: she starts the song in one place and stays there riding in circles until the end. With the exception of her duet with Maroon 5's Adam Levine on the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" -- duets, by their very nature, necessitate that they be performed as complete songs -- that's true of nearly every cut here, whether they're originals or covers; the songs are stripped down to their hooks and grooves. Over these rhythmic vamps, Keys does have some impressive vocal runs where she departs from the original melody and glides by on the sheer sound of her voice, but when the songs are reduced to the their bare essence, her vocalizing doesn't become a way of telling a story, it becomes the reason she's playing music in the first place. While that doesn't make for a bad listen -- she has genuine talent as a singer and her band is sleek and skilled, so they can sell this supple, seductive sound quite well -- it doesn't make for a particularly compelling one, either. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released December 2, 2003 | J Records

Since Alicia Keys' 2001 debut album, Songs in A Minor, was ever so slightly overpraised, expectations for her second album, 2003's The Diary of Alicia Keys, were ever so slightly too high. Songs in A Minor not only kicked off a wave of ambitious new neo-soul songsters, it fit neatly into the movement of ambitious yet classicist new female singer/songwriters that ranged from the worldbeat-inflected pop of Nelly Furtado to the jazzy Norah Jones, whose success may not have been possible if Keys hadn't laid the groundwork with such soulful work as her hit "Fallin'." Such success at such a young age, even if deserved, can be too much too soon, since young songwriters showered with praise and riches may find it hard to see the world outside of their own cocoon. The very title of The Diary of Alicia Keys -- at once disarmingly simple and self-important -- suggests that Keys, like Furtado, took her stardom a little too seriously and felt compelled to present her worldview unfiltered, dispensing with artistic ambiguities and leaving each song as a portrait of Alicia Keys, the woman as a young artist. As she somewhat bafflingly says in her liner notes, "these songs are like my daily entrees," which likely means that these were indeed intended to play like unedited entries in a journal, a goal that she's fulfilled quite successfully, even if it does mean that the album often plays as a diary, leaving listeners in the role of observers instead of seeing themselves in the songs. This was a problem on Furtado's nearly simultaneously released Folklore, but Keys trumps her peer in one key way -- musically, this is a seamless piece of work, a sultry slow groove that emphasizes her breathy, seductive voice and lush soulfulness. Tonally, this is ideal late-night romantic music, even when the tempos are kicked up a notch as on the blaxploitation-fueled "Heartburn," yet beneath that sensuous surface there is some crafty, complex musicality, particularly in how Keys blurs lines between classic soul, modern rhythms, jazz, pop melodies, and singer/songwriter sensibility. It's an exceptionally well-constructed production, and as a sustained piece of sonic craft, it's not just seductive, it's a good testament to Keys' musical strengths (which can even withstand Andre Harris and Vidal Davis' irritating squeaky voice production signature on "So Simple"). What the album lacks are songs as immediate as "Fallin'" or as compelling as "A Woman's Worth," and that, combined with her insular outlook, is where Diary comes up short and reveals that it is indeed merely a second album. Such is the problem of arriving with a debut as fully formed as Songs in A Minor at such a young age -- listeners tend to expect more from the sequel, forgetting that this an artist still in her formative stages. So, those expecting another album where Keys sounds wise beyond her years will bound to be disappointed by The Diary of Alicia Keys, since her writing reveals her age in a way it never did on the debut. Yet that is a typical problem with sophomore efforts, and while this is a problem, it's one that is outweighed by her continually impressive musical achievements; they're enough to make The Diary worth repeated listens, and they're enough to suggest that Keys will continue to grow on her third album. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released December 15, 2009 | J Records

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Soul - Released November 4, 2016 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released June 4, 2021 | J Records

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R&B - Released November 26, 2012 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released November 9, 2007 | J Records

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R&B - Released June 23, 2013 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released December 18, 2020 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released June 5, 2001 | J Records

Alicia Keys' debut album, Songs in A Minor, made a significant impact upon its release in the summer of 2001, catapulting the young singer/songwriter to the front of the neo-soul pack. Critics and audiences were captivated by a 19-year-old singer whose taste and influences ran back further than her years, encompassing everything from Prince to smooth '70s soul, even a little Billie Holiday. In retrospect, it was the idea of Alicia Keys that was as attractive as the record, since soul fans were hungering for a singer/songwriter who seemed part of the tradition without being as spacy as Macy Gray or as hippie mystic as Erykah Badu while being more reliable than Lauryn Hill. Keys was all that, and she had style to spare -- elegant, sexy style accentuated by how she never oversang, giving the music a richer feel. It was rich enough to compensate for some thinness in the writing -- though it was a big hit, "Fallin'" doesn't have much body to it -- which is a testament to Keys' skills as a musician. And, the fact is, even though there are some slips in the writing, there aren't many, and the whole thing remains a startling assured, successful debut that deserved its immediate acclaim and is already aging nicely. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released November 18, 2012 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released April 7, 2017 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released November 20, 2019 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released February 17, 2004 | J Records - Legacy

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Pop - Released October 30, 2020 | RCA Records Label

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R&B - Released November 17, 2009 | J Records

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R&B - Released September 11, 2007 | J Records

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Pop/Rock - Released September 15, 2008 | J Records

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Alicia Keys in the magazine
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