Album: Unplugged

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Album:

Unplugged

Artist: Alicia Keys
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Label: J-Records

With MTV’s decision to revive its much-missed “Unplugged” series came a certain obligation: Whoever was going to kick the shows off needed to have the means to deliver serious heat, Grammy-vote garnering heat. The “powers that be” couldn’t have chosen better than Alicia Keys. Throughout this consistent set, marked by warmth, sincerity and a powerful lack of inhibition, Keys convinces that if she’s not the new Aretha Franklin, she’s a force of equal might and measure. All the favorites are here, the danceable “Karma” carries into the funky “Heartburn” and the…

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With MTV’s decision to revive its much-missed “Unplugged” series came a certain obligation: Whoever was going to kick the shows off needed to have the means to deliver serious heat, Grammy-vote garnering heat. The “powers that be” couldn’t have chosen better than Alicia Keys. Throughout this consistent set, marked by warmth, sincerity and a powerful lack of inhibition, Keys convinces that if she’s not the new Aretha Franklin, she’s a force of equal might and measure. All the favorites are here, the danceable “Karma” carries into the funky “Heartburn” and the give-it-up glory of “Unbreakable.” “Fallin’,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” and “You Don’t Know My Name” come later, but interspersed are enough pleasant surprises to make even fanatical Keys followers forget the signature songs. Prince’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me,” for instance, gets a playful work-up, complete with audience-aimed banter and an unbroken promise to “take it to the bridge,” and a duet that on paper seems misguided works surprisingly well, as Keys resists any instinct to clobber Maroon 5’s Adam Levine vocally. Yowling, piano pounding, hip-hop tics (the ubiquitous, emphatic “unh”), and even a spot of theatrical poetry all have their places here, but Keys manages them with a master’s sense of what’s song-appropriate. Her band is spot-on, her arrangements soar, and her guests—count Mos Def and Common among them—complement the proceedings without even momentarily carrying them. The best “Unplugged” discs leave a listener wishing artists would kick the amps altogether; this is one of them. —Tammy La Gorce

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