Music News

Alicia Keys/Kelis

Self-contained female performers have always been a rarity in R&B, so when one comes along, overreaction is perhaps inevitable. In 2001, plenty of those who heard Alicia Keys were so knocked out by the preternaturally poised 19-year-old pianist that they failed to notice that much of the music from Songs in A Minor was, well, minor. Minus the hype, her second album reveals her weaknesses -- still too many vamps dependent on Keys' keyboard chops. But the entries in this Diary also contain a few of the classic tunes missing from her Grammy-winning debut.

For one of them, Keys has to swipe the melody from Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By" -- which she gives a good home, fattening it up with gospel hollers and palpable longing. "If I Ain't Got You" climbs its ascending melody straight into Philly soul heaven. The centerpiece, though, is "You Don't Know My Name," a fantasy aimed straight at every unrequited lover. The tune eavesdrops on a phone call between Keys -- "the waitress from the coffeehouse" -- and a customer with whom she's smitten.

Kelis, meanwhile, seems the sort of performer Keys' success was a reaction against. A singer of average technical gifts, she has a bio that reads like that of any of a dozen R&B vixens hoping for a little Neptunes magic. But not only does no one push the Neptunes' future funk further than Kelis; on her third album, the Harlem-born wild child also inspires greatness among other collaborators, including Rockwilder and neo-soul man Raphael Saadiq.

Over the wildly oscillating synth-bass of "Milkshake," Kelis taunts the boys: "They lose their minds/The way I whine." A full taste of Tasty proves that's no idle boast.

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Dan Leroy