Alicia Keys - The Diary Of...
As noted in the review for the lead single off this album, You Don't Know My Name, the release of an Alicia Keys record is a more relaxed affair than that of her contemporaries. Going back to her debut, Songs In A Minor, the record slipped out with a minimum of fuss and boosted by the success of songs like A Woman's Worth, the album went on to be a huge success and, unsurprisingly, Alicia followed up her debut with this album late in 2003.
Keeping with the cool funk and sleek thrills that lit up her debut, Alicia Keys snatches moments out of decades of blues and soul to create an album that's almost a match for the best of Stax and Atlantic, the blue-eyed soul of the eighties and the rolling beats of east-coast hip-hop. Relaxed, graceful, warm and with touches of light jazz, The Diary Of... sounds wonderful and, with her songwriting revealing moments out of her life and of New York, a stark honesty.
Opening with a sweeping piano solo that fades into the bleak sound of Harlem's Nocturne, The Diary Of... leaves Mariah, Britney and Christina miles behind with a daring, soaring sound that works as much out of jilted pop as it does soul, paying tribute to Alicia's New York home. As much of a leap from Songs In A Minor to Harlem's Nocturne as it is from track one to track two, Karma sees Alicia Keys' piano strutting around a rhythm that's cut apart by strings that last heard creeping out of The RZA's Wu-Tang productions. With both songs more scratchy than her debut, The Diary Of... cuts the ties completely with the deep funk of Heartburn, which is almost the equal of Beyonce's Crazy In Love before Alicia pulls back with the clash between Gloria Jones' If I Were Your Woman and Bacharach and David's Walk On By.
The album’s lead single, You Don't Know My Name, is the old story of the waitress in the street corner diner falling in love with a regular and as Alicia's piano glistens in the background, she calls from a pay phone to introduce herself. In other hands, You Don't Know My Name would be a pop ballad desperately tugging at one's heart but serving only to provoke a more basic reaction. With Alicia Keys writing and recording, the song shimmers in the manner of Prince & The Revolution about the time of Parade and Sign O' The Times and, with its spoken telephone call and clipped rhythm, could well have been the partner to If I Was Your Girlfriend with Prince using Camille to provide a lead vocal.
Better still is Darkest Days, which gets back to Shaft-era Isaac Hayes with supple bass, the rhythm of Harlem and the persistent piano roll out of Hot Buttered Soul's Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic, as does Wake Up, which shivers in its first minute with the tension that Hayes brought to Shaft. And yet there are so many more moments on this album worth of mention, whether it is the uplifting soul of When You Really Love Someone, the crisp funk guitar of Feeling U, Feeling Me or the lift from Seals & Crofts's Summer Breeze. It was an album made with passion that drifted into release and proved that alongside Kristin Hersh, Stina Nordenstam and, more occasionally, Kate Bush, Alicia Keys is capable of stunning moments over an album that is love-bruised but is coming out strong.