Alicia Keys | songs in A minor: 10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

Alicia Keys
songs in A minor: 10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
(J Records)

A Record Reflection by A. Scott Galloway

I was not feeling Alicia Keys when she first arrived on the scene. To be specific, I was not feeling all the hype that surrounded the Piano 101 James Brown-derived track of “Fallin’” or the schizoid nature of songs in A minor as a whole. Sure, the sista was talented, driven and easy on the eyes (from her braids to that boo-tay), and she did have one undeniable classic on the disc (“A Woman’s Worth”). Still, what I heard more than anything was promise…not already-there excellence to the tune of 12 million copies sold. Adding fuel to my discontent, come Grammy time, the girl just swept everything, leaving another amazingly gifted and purposed new singer/songwriter India.Arie with nothing to show for her inspired culturally significant efforts. It just felt like a locomotive industry engine was steamrolling Keys into pop immortality before her time. In some ways I still feel the same way but looking back 10 years on as Ms. Keys rightfully celebrates this milestone anniversary of her debut with the deluxe box set treatment, I have some new thoughts.

In hindsight, I have to give credit to J Records President Clive Davis, A&R ace Peter Edge and primary co-producer Kerry “Krucial” Brothers. It is clear that Alicia had more going on in ambitious musical and thematic directions. And while I still believe India’s debut warranted at least an even split between those Grammy statuettes, time reveals that – to date – Keys has evolved far more while India’s song has pretty much remained the same – her debut a gem of its time, Alicia’s a signpost of greater things to come.
The new 2-CD/1-DVD edition of Keys’ songs in A minor reminds us of the spunk of Keys’ early work. It begins raw and percussive with many tracks no more than voice, beats and piano (which people forget is a percussion instrument). The Jermaine Dupri-produced “Girlfriend” is emblematic of the hip hop swagger Keys would later bring to epic anthems like “Empire State of Mind (New York)” w/ Jay-Z. Things warm up a few songs in on the tender Quiet Storm ballad “Troubles” and later still when she gets some seasoned assist from the late, great Isaac Hayes on a cinematic headphones treat “Rock Wit U,” spring-coiled strings and horn stabs fleshing out the mean and meaty street heat.

She shows good taste in the tender 1-2- punch of covering Brain McKnight’s evergreen “Never Felt This Way” as an interlude segue into her own heart on sleeve missive “Butterflyz.” Closing her album with a nod to Maya Angelou via “Caged Bird” revealed her allegiance to the poetry of women of strength. And what can be said about her cover of Prince’s “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” Though she wasn’t the first female to tackle it (respect to Stephanie Mills), she introduced it to a new generation with a fervor that was not to be denied.

The new Collector’s Edition package includes a second disc of outtakes and remixes that also point to greater things ahead and the evolution she made within the years she and her album bolted from Columbia to J Records. I especially love the funky original demo of “If I Was Your Woman” (a cover that wound up on her next album in a more polished form), the autobiographical “Typewriter” and three live in Seattle tracks that show she was bringing transcendent energy to her concert game from jump, especially on a searing version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” The DVD is an insightful behind the scenes documentary reflecting back on the personal and professional tribulations of Alicia for the debut that would not die, complete with archival footage and photographs that let you know she was comin’ at ya one way or another, by any means necessary.

In closing, my admiration for Alicia Keys has elevated exponentially since the release of this album. My interview encounters with her have always been refreshingly unguarded, candid and real. I saw her perform solo piano only, up close and personal, in one of the very first events held at the Hollywood & Highland complex – holding an audience spellbound with her talent and charm. I saw her vulnerable in Barbados before an audience that was simply too uptight to warm up to her. I saw her transplant herself back to the days of the Cotton Club on the Hollywood Bowl stage with a far-reaching concept concert that challenged her fans (with no less than the Isley Brothers opening for her). I’ve watched her delve into the movie world with roles both serious (“The Secret Lives of Bees”) and fun (“Smokin’ Aces”). The work she does globally via her various foundations such as Keep a Child Alive is sincere and on-point in its urgency. And with each successive album, I’ve been most impressed by Alicia’s daring to take chances and shake things up with the unexpected. Plus she’s making this one available for the first time in 180g vinyl. She’s still no Patrice Rushen on that piano…but I guess I’ve grown to dig more of my songs in A minor after all.

A. Scott Galloway
June 22, 2011
The Urban Music Scene

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