Don’t think all the PR-machinery hype about Alicia Keys’ classical training has any bearing on her music.
Classical training frowns on improvisation and intuition, and a style of music as freedom-loving as R&B couldn’t be more at odds with the western art music establishment.
What Keys’ training does give her, however, is confidence, something that definitely comes across in Songs in A Minor.
For the most part, Keys’ debut doesn’t offer anything earth-shattering. She more than likely studied Beethoven in school, not Schoenberg. As such, the 15 tracks on A Minor are just your standard hip-hop/soul/jazz fare.
Songs such as “The Life”, “Jane Doe”, and “Mr. Man” offer mid-tempo, pitter-patter beats, funky 70s bass work, glimmering guitars and huge, gospel-choir backing vocals.
But they’re delivered with such an impressive presence, even listeners who couldn’t tell Jill Scott from Mariah Carey can recognize something distinctive about Keys.
She’s all over Prince’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me”. She hammers her point on “A Woman’s Worth”. And she stands her ground on against the slick beats and fancy arrangements of “Girlfriend”.
The word bandied about by listeners and reviewers alike is “mature”, and for someone as young as the 20-year-old Keys, it’s certainly an apt description.
Keys could have very well geared her music for the teens and pre-teens that have the music industry by the financial balls. But she has her eye on the future, and maintaining that maturity — while still growing as an artist — ensures she’ll be around for some time to come.
Songs in A Minor is an impressive enough debut for non-R&B fans to enjoy. Keys may not be as flamboyant as Macy Gray, versatile as Lauryn Hill or even holistic as India.Arie, but she does have an incredible sense of who she is and can become.