There's a reason why we lauded Alicia Keys when her debut album Songs In A Minor dropped a little more than a decade ago. The young piano prodigy had the look of a new age starlet, Billie Holiday with a fedora and braids and on her 31st birthday, revisiting her classic debut album is a necessity.
Keys had vibrancy about her from the moment "Fallin" nestled its way onto Top 40 radio playlists and stayed there for the better part of two years. A James Brown sample wrapped around a thundering piano loop and one heart-wrenching tale of love gone in vertigo put her on comparisons with notable songstresses such as Aretha Franklin and others.
It was gospel-driven, almost in the same way Adele patterns most of her big records behind Southern style choral arrangements and a big booming voice. You loved "Fallin", I loved "Fallin" and later on when Keys admitted she played the piano sometimes in the buff, I swooned.
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Songs In A Minor plays itself in a Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life sort of frame, busty instrumentation around melodies and stories that not only grab your attention, you reimagine them as if you were the lead. Not many can go and dish on a Prince cover such as "How Come You Don't Call Me" and nail it with precision but Keys did it with a funky twinge and a connection that deserved a bit of call & response whenever performed live.
The album, ripe with slow jams such as "Butterflyz" and duets like the sexy "Mr. Man" with Jimmy Cozier places Keys at the forefront of a few, a talented writer who meets the audience head on and unlike John Legend who loves his piano as well, can leave the instrument behind and create a riveting stage show.
Songs In A Minor pulled off the rare feat of making Keys not only a star overnight but one that sustained long-term viability even when her record label didn't. J Records was the flashy new label, the brainchild of exec Clive Davis that sadly bit the dust, scuttling the careers of Cozier who was a promising rookie himself. Keys stands as the leading woman of the label, its most successful artist and owner of a record five Grammy Awards from a debut album to prove it.