Alicia Keys

The Diary of Alicia Keys mates the dopest elements of past and current rhythm-and-blues trends, achieving a fluid blend that's not only natural, but tight as hell. From the first strikes of the piano in the introduction until the CD expires, some 57 minutes later, Keys envelops listeners in a world of piano-infused hip-hop and R&B and simply refuses to loosen her grip.

"Karma," an unquestionably hot cut produced by Krucial that showcases beautiful racing violins, is about a repentant lover attempting to regain her favor. Even if you can't reconcile a world where Alicia Keys is kicked to the curb, this is still a standout.

Meanwhile, "You Don't Know My Name?" is an ingeniously smooth and innovative contrast to the monotony of most modern R&B. Bolstered by the dexterous Midas touch of current "it" producer Kanye West, Keys sprinkles a little hip-hop on top of '60s-inflected soda-shop pop, creating a track that shines on an album full of hits. But Keys's true hybrid vision manifests itself on the self-produced and absolutely gorgeous "If I Ain't Got You," which boasts a chorus befitting any Baptist church.

Despite a misstep or two -- "When You Really Love Someone" falls flat, with Keys beating a horse she bludgeoned to death on the last disc -- this is a heavy-rotation album. Don't let Keys's near-obnoxious pop status steer you away, because her Diary is superb and will complement even the most esoteric of music collections.


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