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CD Review: Alicia Keys' The Element of Freedom

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The Deal: Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys releases her fourth studio album.

The Good: Keys' freedom of expression is evident on her latest release in that she goes beyond the usual ballads and piano-driven tracks. She finds more soul, hip-hop and blues influence. "Put It In a Love Song" sounds like something out of Beyonce's archive, so it's no surprise that she's featured on the track. Keys has the ability to make the familiar – such as "Doesn't Mean Anything" – sound fresh through the use of her vocals and melodies. "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart" comes across as something more out of Mariah's background – kind of a stadium-ready ballad with a pop beat driving it. Drake appears on "Un-thinkable (I'm Ready)," but only as a background singer and not spitting any verses. "Distance and Time" sounds like it's being sung over a beat from Lenny Kravitz's "More Than Anything In This World." Her hit with Jay-Z, "Empire State of Mind," is revisited here as a "Part II" in its stripped-down, piano-driven glory – Jay-Z is not featured on the track – to close the album.

The Bad: Keys' songs are usually radio-friendly, which may diminish some of the lyrical quality that's present. After a while though, too many songs about heartache and heartbreak can begin to wear you down.

The Verdict: Keys has always shown a maturity beyond her years, and this album is no different. She solidifies herself on the r&b pathway. One reason that the album feels so familiar is that there are currently five singles playing on radio. I'd expect plenty of more awards for the 12-time Grammy Award-winning artist.

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