Honor roll: Grammy Award for Best Rythm & Blues Album

Each of these albums has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rythm & Blues Album. They are ranked by honors received.

Album:The Diary of Alicia Keys

The Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys has more than lived up to the promise of her formidable debut Songs in A Minor, pushing beyond her flirtation with old-school soul and venturing into the modern world, even hiring Timbaland to guide her through the shoals of anthemic hip-hop on the breathless and funkified “Heartburn.” Sounding like a hyperthyroid cheerleader, Keys unleashes a quirky sense of humor that no one even suspected she possessed. Her effortless singing on the beat-driven “Karma” is a wonder of sonics on this uplifting piece of pop philosophy, giving countless anxious…

Album:Get Lifted

Get Lifted

John Legend

Given the sped-up classic soul samples with which Kanye West has made his mark, it comes as no surprise that the producer/rapper would pick a tradition-minded R&B singer as his first big pet project. Legend first made his name on Philly’s incense-clouded, ‘70s-obsessed neo-soul scene, then found his way to New York and became West’s right-hand man in the studio. His patron’s pop smarts serve Legend well—while many contemporary R&B records rely too heavily on a singer’s cadence and skill to carry underdeveloped tunes, Legend and West have composed genuine songs…

Album:Dance With My Father

Dance With My Father

Luther Vandross

Given Luther Vandross’s precarious state of health at the time of its release, Dance With My Father’s title track—a tale of yearning for a lost loved one—takes on added poignancy. It’s something of a centerpiece on an album that moves in several directions, reaching for varied constituencies, while ultimately staying focused on Vandross’s trademark buttery vocals. In addition to “Dance,” there’s more adult-contemporary balladry (“Buy Me a Rose”), lightly sassy soul (“If I Didn’t Know Better”), and a number of collaborations with hip-hoppers that often work…

Album:Voyage to India

Voyage to India

India.Arie

India Arie seems comfortable in her own body. She told us as much on both “Video” and “Brown Skin” from her stunning debut album, Acoustic Soul, which celebrated the diversity of feminine beauty, self-acceptance, and spirituality. She addresses similar themes on her second outing, although much of her original soul-scouring fire is gone. While she still preaches self-empowerment, many of her lyrics veer toward the trite, and that’s not where we expected to go on this Voyage to India. In fact, there are very few self-revelatory moments like the ones…

Album:Acoustic Soul

Acoustic Soul

India.Arie

India.Arie’s Acoustic Soul is just as advertised: grooving soul music with an acoustic bent. Arie herself plays guitar, supplemented by strings (instead of synthesizers) and drums (instead of drum machines). The first single, “Video”, is a calm, confident ode to self-love, comparing the dreadlocked, petite Arie to the average girl in a video. Arie is indeed anything but average: her debut marks the auspicious return of the black female singer-songwriter, in the vein of Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Tracy Chapman and Dionne Farris. If you like their music, with…

Album:Songs in A Minor

Songs in A Minor

Alicia Keys

She may be beautiful, but Alicia Keys is a musician first and foremost. She plants herself firmly behind the piano keys on her debut, unlike many of the booty-waggin’ junior divas who are crowding the R&B videoscape these days. Though many of the tracks on Songs in A Minor are embellished with adolescent angst, this 20-year-old’s substantial, gorgeously soul-drenched alto putties the cracks between notes with astonishing ease. “Fallin’,” the album’s first single, showcases Keys at her best. She wails plaintively and passionately over rolling blues chords,…

Album:Voodoo

Voodoo

D'Angelo

Halfway through the languid midtempo ballad “Send It On” from D’Angelo’s new sophomore effort, Voodoo, the young retro-soul maestro and band shift tempo and melody. It’s a move so understatedly dramatic that it elicits comparisons not just to obvious touchstones Marvin Gaye and Al Green, but to the Jimi Hendrix of Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. While Voodoo is hardly in a league with such major statements, it’s a record inviting enough to attract repeated plays of its 78-minute length. As on his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, D’Angelo covers a wide range of concerns—sex…

Album:Free Yourself

Free Yourself

Fantasia Barrino

Few would accuse Fantasia of a reluctance to abide by the wisdom that what you’ve got, you should flaunt, and the vocal gusto she slathers over her full-length debut gets partial credit for earning—and keeping—your attention. To a greater extent, though, the high-wattage help heaped over the Idol 3 champ and Patti LaBelle-sound-alike makes the disc dazzle. In addition to pitch-ins from Missy Elliott, who produced and co-wrote three tracks and busts out a two-snaps-up rhyme on “Selfish (I Want U 2 Myself),” Jazze Pha duets on the ultra-mod “Don’t Act Right”…

Album:Illumination

Illumination

Earth, Wind & Fire

On Illumination, Earth, Wind & Fire take a hip-hop strategy and turn it on its head, working rhymes and beats into their still pudding-smooth harmonies and sun-warmed, ethereal soul. For other bands, it would have never worked, but Earth, Wind & Fire have always been masters at sophisticated genre-piling. If anyone has earned the right, it’s frontmen Philip Bailey and Maurice White and the rest of the gang. Few other 35-year-old, eight-time Grammy-winning bands can claim as many followers or liberally-borrowing samplers. Where other old-timers might have…

Album:A Time To Love

A Time To Love

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder took more than ten years to give a studio successor to Conversation Peace but A Time to Love feels fresher than we had any right to expect after such a long wait. For starters, the guests are well picked: They include Bonnie Raitt (playing slide guitar on “Tell Your Heart I Love You”), gospel singer Kim Burrell (on “If Your Heart Cannot Be Moved”), India Arie (on the title track), and Wonder’s own daughter, Aisha Morris (whom listeners may remember as the source of her dad’s delight in Songs in the Key of Life—”Isn’t She…

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