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  • Cy White

Alicia Keys: KEYS

KEYS sees an Alicia Keys returning to something more raw and emotionally honest than some of her most recent commercial work. This has the air of Songs in A Minor, as if she's reaching back to the Alicia right out of Hell's Kitchen to let her know that she'll be able to embrace the softer parts of herself, even in moments of deep agony and regret.

KEYS is an apt title. We get the pianist at her most open, vulnerable and musically complex. Jazz standards that fully explore how the classical training brushes up against the gritty reality of her existence. The side that many people are less wont to see when they take Keys in.

She's less refined, even in the throes of a piano fugue, allowing her voice to break, hitch, ache, yearn. Even her playing seems to come from a place of deep soul. Tracks like "Is It Insane" pull from something down in the gut and offers an almost enthusiastic urge to bleed out on the piano. As ever, Keys makes masterful use of her influences, sampling without being overbearing. Track "Best of Me" is a clever and beautiful reimagining of Sade's "Cherish the Day." Drawing from the melodic construction of the Sade classic and the narrative arc to deliver, if nothing else, a beautiful homage to a song about the overwhelming power of love.

If 2021 has done anything, it has forced artists to really explore the expanses of their artistic integrity. You really know at the end of the year who's really put their soul into the music and who's still grasping on to the superficial, hoping people won't notice.

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