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  Listen Up! 12/19/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Dec. 19

Alicia Keys, “The Diary of Alicia Keys,” J Records. The lead-off single from this album, “Karma,” has somehow penetrated my brainwaves without me even knowing it. It’s another great single from this r’n’b diva with jazz harmonies. I like most of this album (though it might have benefited from cutting about three or four songs). Keys gets all these props for playing piano, which is only a distinguishing feature because r’n’b singers haven’t been playing their own instruments for, I don’t know 15 years at least. I’m guessing her piano chops contribute to the unusual song structures and harmonies; her vocals are firmly rooted in the melismatic fervor of contemporary post-soul singers. I guess the neo-soulness of her comes from the combination of those piano concepts with the melisma, and also the really cool overlayed vocal parts she likes to use.

The Holmes Brothers, “Simple Truths,” Alligator Records. These guys continue to make pleasant records. This time, the gospel-drenched family soul band turn to producer Craig Street (best known for his work with Cassandra Wilson) and they take on such fun songs as “Shine” (by Collective Soul originally, and also by Dolly Parton), “If I Needed You” (the Townes Van Zandt classic), “Big Boss Man” (from Jimmy Reed), and “Concrete Jungle” (early Bob Marley, also done by the Specials). As always, the Holmes Brothers get by more on song selection and enthusiasm than chops. Nobody here is an especially brilliant singer, and the musicianship is more than competent yet less than inspired. They deserve credit for carrying on traditions which have virtually vanished, and they do so without ever embarrassing themselves.

--Steve Pick

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