Alicia Keys; Kelis

The Diary of Alicia Keys (Arista); Tasty (J Records)

Self-contained female performers have always been a rarity in R&B, so when one comes along, overreaction is perhaps inevitable. In 2001 plenty of those who heard Alicia Keys were so knocked out by the preternaturally poised nineteen-year-old pianist that they failed to notice that much of the music from her Songs in A Minorwas, well, minor. Minus the hype, her second album reveals her weakness -- too many vamps that are overly dependent on her keyboard chops.

But the entries in this Diary also include a few classic tunes missing from her Grammy-winning debut. For one of them, Keys has to swipe the melody from Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By" -- which she gives a good home, fattening it up with gospel hollers and palpable longing. "If I Ain't Got You" climbs its ascending melody straight into Philly soul heaven. The centerpiece, though, is "You Don't Know My Name," a fantasy aimed straight at every unrequited lover. The tune eavesdrops on a phone call between Keys, "the waitress from the coffeehouse," and a customer with whom she's smitten.

Kelis, meanwhile, seems to be the sort of performer that Keys's success was a reaction against. A singer of average technical gifts, Kelis has a bio that reads like that of any number of R&B vixens hoping for a little Neptunes magic. But not only does she push the production duo's future funk further than anyone else, the Harlem-born wild child also inspires greatness in her other collaborators, including Rockwilder and Raphael Saadiq, on her third album, Tasty. Over the wildly oscillating synth-bass of "Milkshake," she taunts the boys: "They lose their minds/The way I whine." A full taste of Tasty proves that's no idle boast.

 
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