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DJBooth Album Review
India Arie has been soothing America with her stripped-down soul for nearly a decade now, a period that’s seen no shortage of highs and lows for the Denver-born singer. India has the bittersweet honor of being nominated for the most Grammys in a year, for her debut album Acoustic Soul, without winning a single one. (Hence Kanye’s use of her name as a verb in his award show complaint, “they tried to India Arie me.”) Fortunately, that first album hasn’t defined Arie. Instead she’s released a string of successful albums, picking up a couple Grammys along the way. Now she’s back with for the very fourth time with her new album Testimony Vol. 2: Love and Politics, the follow up to 2006’s Life And Relationships. While at first blush it may seem like love and politics have little in common, Arie weaves the two together into a politics of love that’s underscored by her continued growth as a songwriter. The album isn’t for everyone (I’m looking at you guy with the Trick Trick poster) but at the very least everyone should be able to recognize the work of a true artist.
What is life with out love, and what’s an album with a song called Chocolate High? While Ray-J would have undoubtedly turned a song called Chocolate High into a cringe-worthy x-rated romp, in Arie’s hands it’s an uplifting analogy for love’s addictive properties: “I crave you, I want you, every cell in my body needs you,” sings Arie over a dreamy sonic backdrop. Throw in a typically smooth verse from Musiq “don’t call me Soulchild” and you’ve got a single. Much like some Hershey’s, Chocolate High is easily enjoyed, but also has relatively little nutritional value compared to the album’s other offerings. Take Therapy, an up-tempo track embedded with bouncing percussion and overlaid with tight harmonies that should be a smash with the VH1 crowd (when it’s the number one video on VH1 I’ll be there to say I told you so). On the other end of the relationship spectrum is Long Goodbye, an acoustically oriented song that may be musically simpler, but whose themes of holding onto a lost love are complex and revealing. Love And Politics isn’t music to fall in love to, it’s music made to celebrate a love already found.
You’d think that the politics portion of Love And Politics would be comparatively dull, but Arie’s most exciting music comes when she travels away from the comfortable grounds of romance. Pearls is easily the album’s best track, an eclectically styled song that’s had its passport stamped a few times. Bringing in elements of African drums, Spanish guitar and innumerable other influences, Pearls combines all of these styles effortlessly. For her part Arie’s voice is surprisingly emotional, roaming from a plaintive moan to a soaring soprano. At her best Arie is a storyteller, and Pearls is so well-crafted it could be a novel. The only things that could possibly make Pearls better would be a contribution from K'naan (if K'naan's on Arie's next album I want royalties). Similarly, Ghetto is a moving song that draws international lines between the suffering of the poor. “There are parts of West Virginia, that might as well be Kenya,” sings Arie, and while such statements might sound preachy from most singers, Arie has mastered the subtle art of persuasion, prompting you to follow her rather than shoving you forward. It’s true that Love And Politics falters at times, the Grains interludes are unnecessary filler at best and tracks like Yellow could use some serious editing, but overall the album is yet another chapter in the catalog of woman who’s quietly becoming one of her generation’s most consistently captivating voices. Excuse me, make that one of her generation’s most captivating artists.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Feb 12, 2009
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