Sunday, July 24, 2011


After yesterday's sad news of the death of Amy Winehouse, I'd like to celebrate another young female singer who has successfully survived fame at an early age. Ten years after the release of her stunning debut, Songs In A Minor, Alicia Keys has an impressive body of work that just keeps growing.

She's just released a 10th anniversary edition of her debut, and I have to admit, I'd forgotten how good it was.  The singles ("Fallin'," "A Woman's Worth," her cover of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore") are of course amazing, but there are great album tracks on the LP.  I don't know that all contemporary pop artists care about full albums anymore. But Alicia Keys has always had a vision.  When this album came out, she was 19.  She was an exec producer, which is rare for new artists, especially artists of her age. She wrote or co-wrote all the originals.   At that point in her career, she needed to have that kind of control: she'd already been signed by, and dropped by, two record labels.   She was accepted to Columbia University, and dropped out after four weeks.  She knew what she needed to do: she knew she needed to control her career.  She had to focus and the discipline and the wisdom to be able to pull it off. I guess a lot of artists want to do that, but they aren't necessarily capable of doing it. Time has proven Alicia knew what she was doing all along.

So the anniversary edition of Songs In A Minor has the full album. It was definitely a product of Alicia's vision, but she was fortunate enough to have some great contributors: Isaac Hayes did the arrangements and played Rhodes piano on "Rock Wit U" and Brian McKnight produced and played all the instruments on "Goodbye" (but Alicia wrote it).  They're just two of the non-singles that are worth revisiting.

There's a second disc with alternate versions of songs from the album and other rarities.  There's the remix of "A Woman's Worth" (featuring Nas), an early and very funky version of "If I Was Your Woman," a different version of "Fallin'" and a live cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire." Finally, it comes with a DVD with a documentary about the album and some of the music videos. There's a great essay by the writer Alan Light, and also Alicia herself writes about every song on the collection, as well as an essay about the album itself.

Songs In A Minor holds up really well today, as does much of the music she's made since.  Ten years deep, Alicia Keys is still adding to her catalog of excellent songs, and we should be grateful for that.

On a personal note, I'll mention that I interviewed Ms. Keys when I was at VH1, she was one of my favorite interviews.  I figured, if someone that young has to have that much success, I'm glad it's her, she handles it with such grace, and remains a really cool person (I said the same thing about Norah Jones also). I told her I wanted to write the liner notes for her box set and she said "let's do it" or something like that.  Here's hoping she remembers that!

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