Mitchell: Keys at her best with piano and little else

Every one of Alicia Keys’ past studio albums sold platinum and this fifth release promises to perform much the same.

Alicia Keys: Girl On Fire (RCA)

Every one of Alicia Keys’ past studio albums sold platinum and scored top hits and this fifth release promises to perform much the same although there are many changes for Girl On Fire.

Keys has married Swizz Beatz (aka Kasseem Dean) and she has given birth to a child which seems to have made her more confident yet open to new ideas on this new album.

Musically this disc has many collaborators unlike past Keys albums.

Keys also lists herself as executive producer, producer and conceptualist for Girl On Fire and while there are only two listed singers on the liner with the title track and its rap from Nicki Minaj and the duet Fire We Make with Maxwell, there are multiple songwriters credited here along with outside producers.

This has made Girl On Fire her most eclectic album to date with old school R&B ballads like Listen To Your Heart juxtaposed with songs that veer into jazz territory as on the avant garde electro-buzz of When It’s All Over.

Keys picks up a few New Orleans accents in her piano via Allen Toussaint and Professor Longhair on the classicist R&B song Tears Always Win while there is a dash of psychedelia on Limitless and a touch of folk on That’s When I Knew.

In spite of all the outside help, however, I found my fave tracks to be the stripped down piano and vocal tracks like the brilliant 101 and Not Even The King.

Finally, I will always be grateful for Keys’ smash hit from a couple of years ago, Empire State Of Mind, for giving New York a better signature song than Sinatra/Paul Anka’s New York, New York.

Not sure if Girl On Fire is as good as some of Keys’ past efforts as some of the material isn’t as consistently strong but fans will be satisfied.

B-

Swedish House Mafia: Until Now (EMI)

Swedish House Mafia is the three notable DJs, mix miesters and producers Sebastian Ingrosso, Axwell and Steve Angello and all three have had tremendous influence on the EDM, electronic and dance club scenes.

The trio released a compilation CD a couple of years ago titled Until One and hence the title of this new disc Until Now that is sort of a farewell memento to their fans of electronic house music as all three are going their solo ways.

The tracks here are segued like a night at the club and there are some notable scene hits here such as the remake of Coldplay’s Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall and the remodel of One (Your Name) which features Pharrell of The Neptines.

The electronic ‘instrumental’ original Greyhound is yet another smash club hit for these lads and Until Now is easily the best selling synth album on the market where it has crossed over from the very narrow and limited electronic charts to the mainstream album sales.

The song title Miami 2 Ibiza more or less tells the whole story of these itinerant electro-wizards but somehow without the booming sound systems, the flashy glitzy lights and myriad of sweating, gyrating bodies this music comes off sounding sort of superfluous and not very interesting.

But how can you recommend ‘for fans only’ as this sells near the top of the charts.

C+

Whitney Houston: The Best Of, Deluxe Edition (Arista)

Earlier this year in February when Whitney Houston died unexpectedly and so relatively young, every one of her back catalogue albums re-entered the top ten album sales charts.

At that time her recording label also released a new Best Of collection subtitled I Will Always Love You that also sold extremely well.

Now, just in time for the stocking stuffing season we have a new expanded two CD set that comes stickered as “The Definitive Collection” that includes 32 hits over both discs where the second CD contains several of Houston’s more early output that was somewhat overlooked on the previous Best Of set.

However, it should be noted that Houston really wasn’t all that prolific given her difficulties with substance abuse and her albums often yielded a half dozen or more hits per release.

While it seemed that Houston was ever present in her major hit heydays, she really didn’t have that many albums on the market. So she really doesn’t have that large of a back catalogue and unless you are an unremitting completest, this definitive collection is all you will ever need while you probably already have everything that is included.

But something tells me that her label is far from finished repackaging one of its major stars.

B+

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