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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Alicia Keys, The Killers and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2007

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Alicia Keys, “As I Am” (J) *** 1/2

Alicia Keys is one of those multiplatinum artists who likes to take her time — but ultimately makes the results worth the wait. She definitely worked during the four-year break between “As I Am,” her third studio album, and “The Diary of Alicia Keys,” touring, releasing an “Unplugged” album in 2005 and getting her acting career going in “The Nanny Diaries,” “Smokin’ Aces” and other projects. But “As I Am” makes clear that none of that detracted from songwriting and recording prowess, which has yielded a sumptuous set of varying R&B and pop flavors that stretch Keys’ vocal and sonic range in subtly new directions — the smoky timbre of “Thing About Love,” for instance, or the glass-clear tone she deploys on the joyful album-closer “Sure Looks Good to Me” and the jazzy rhythm of “Wreckless Love.” John Mayer brings his voice and his guitar to the loping, lush lost love paean “Lesson Learned,” while Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius fortifies the layered vocal arrangement of the phat ’n’ funky opening track “Go Ahead.” “Superwoman” declares adult female empowerment; the buoyant “Teenage Love Affair” sounds like a young adult version of a Jackson 5 tune. An array of details, meanwhile, contribute to the album’s rich soundscape — the finger snaps on “Like You’ll Never See Me Again,” the careful piano and organ blends that starts the first single, “No One,” the martial drum pattern tapping underneath the quiet melody of “Tell You Something.” Keys hasn’t disappointed us since before winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2002, and “As I Am” perpetuates her streak.


The Killers, “Sawdust” (Island) **1/2

It’s impressive that after only two albums, the Killers have amassed enough odds ’n’ sods to make for a compelling leftovers collection like this 17-song set. “Sawdust” pulls together Bsides, soundtrack contributions, covers (Joy Division’s “Shadowplay,” the First Edition’s “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet”) and even some new recordings, including “Tranquilize” with Lou Reed and a spare reworking of “Sam’s Town,” the title track from the Las Vegas quartet’s sophomore release. It doesn’t have the cohesive impact of either of the band’s albums, of course, but “Sawdust” does bring a bit more breadth and depth to the group’s catalog and enough treats to tide over the faithful until the Killers’ next set of new material.


Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “T.H.U.G.S.” (Ruthless) — A new compilation that includes tracks such as “Nation of Thugs,” “Bone Thug Soldier” and “Everyday Thugs.” Sensing a theme here?

Boyz II Men, “Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA”

(Decca) — The “Motownphilly” Boyz enlisted “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson to produce this set of Motown (not Philly) covers.

Dillinger Escape Plan, “Ire Works” (Relapse) — The New Jersey headbangers’ third full-length follows the departure of original drummer Chris Pennie to Coheed & Cambria.

Celine Dion, “Taking Chances” (Columbia) — The Canadian diva’s 13th English language album is a pop extravaganza with help from a variety of hitmakers — including R&B and hiphop kingpins such as R. Kelly, Ne-Yo and Timbaland.

Duran Duran, “Red Carpet Massacre” (Epic) — The Britney Spears collaboration (we kid you not) may have fallen through, but Justin Timberlake and Timbaland are on hand to help the veteran new wavers with some groove reinvention.

Aretha Franklin, “Jewels in the Crown: All Star Duets with the Queen” (Arista) — New teamings with Fantasia and John Legend give some sizzle to this collection of the Queen of Soul’s previous collaborations.

The Hives, “Black and White Album” (Octone) — The Swedish rockers’ four album, already scaling the European charts, features tracks produced by cutting-edge folks such as the Neptunes and Jacknife Lee.

Ja Rule, “Mirror” (Motown/ Universal) — The Hollis MC welcomes Lil Wayne, The Game and others on his seventh album.

LCD Soundsystem, “45:33” (DFA) — The dance rock collective’s acclaimed latest album hits the racks after a sixmonth iTunes exclusive run.

Led Zeppelin, “Mothership” (Rhino/Atlantic) — Two CDs’ worth of the best of the legendary British rock group.

Nelly, “Brass Knuckles”

(Universal) — Akon, Babyface, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Snoop Dogg and T.I. are among the guests on the St. Louis rapper’s fifth album.

Queensryche, “Take Cover” (Rhino) — The Seattle headbangers actually go light on the metal on this covers collection, which features songs by the O’Jays, CSNY, the Police and a selection from “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Seal, “System” (Warner Bros.) — Mr. Heidi Klum’s first studio album in four years teams him with Madonna/ No Doubt/Coldplay collaborator Stuart Price.

Shaggy, “Intoxication” (Big Yard/VP) — The Grammy-winning reggae singer teams with Akon, Sizzla and Collie Buddz on his latest release.

James Taylor, “One Man Band” (Hear Music) — A classy CD/DVD documentation of Sweet Baby James’ captivating, hits-heavy (mostly) oneman show.

Various Artists “Live Earth — The Concerts For a Climate in Crisis” (Warner Bros.) — The 15-track survey of this summer’s consciousness raising event rolls out digitally before its Dec. 4 terrestrial CD/DVD release.

Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love” (Big Machine) — The country singer switches labels for her 13th album and declares that “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” Bet Garth (Brooks, her husband) is glad to hear it.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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