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The Year in Recordings: The Top 10 Albums of the Year 2001

Posted Dec 27, 2001 5:33 PM

2 Alicia Keys
SONGS IN A MINOR J Records

Alicia keys' stunning solo performance of the late Donny Hathaway's R&B prayer "Someday We'll All Be Free" on the September 21st telethon, America: A Tribute to Heroes, confirmed the young singer's ascendance to stardom this year. Indeed, the gospel fireworks and depth of hope in her voice that night suggested that, for all of its precocious class, her Number One debut, Songs in A Minor, is just the start of a long reign in Divaville. The often girlish earnestness in Keys' writing betrays her age and career arc; she wrote many of these songs while still in high school. And Key's production instincts, particularly her reliance on chrome-sugar programming and layered-angel background vocals, never quite bust out of the hip-hop-crossover formula. But the key, so to speak, to her future is That Voice, a potential bonfire of technique that Keys controls with a mature wisdom that marries the sheer joy of Gloria Gaynor with the precise might of a young Aretha Franklin. Some of the best tracks are deep in the middle of the album — "A Woman's Worth," "Jane Doe" — but the whole of Songs in A Minor tells you loud and clear: This is a major talent ready to bloom. DAVID FRICKE

1 Bob Dylan
LOVE AND THEFT Columbia

Bob Dylan's forty-third album is his finest and most compelling — rasp for rasp, pun for pun — since Blood on the Tracks, for at least two reasons: He produced it himself, under his alias Jack Frost, and recorded it with his long-serving, marvelously empathic road band. In other words, that's his blood on the tracks — in the prickly regret of "Mississippi," the ham-on-wry of "Summer Days" and the flood of dread in "High Water (For Charley Patton)." Daniel Lanois" haunted house production on 1997's Time Out of Mind suited that album's black holes of reflection. But Dylan's aggressive clarity on Love and Theft is the art of a man emboldened, not threatened, by age and crisis. His voice is a confrontational instrument of dirt-road crackle and pin-point articulation. And Dylan writes of the women and world that have done him wrong with a dazzling network of word games and truths set to melodies and grooves infused with the pine-wood aroma and gaslight flicker of his beloved, disappearing America: jumpin' country blues ("Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum"), plantation-parlor swing ("Floater"), Tex-Mex-abilly ("Honest With Me"). "I'm gonna stand undefeated, boys/Boys, I'm goin' to speak to the crowd," he declares in "Lone-some Day Blues." In a nation suddenly redefined by loss, the sound of Dylan walking tall and strong through the wreckage is great comfort, inspiration and entertainment. DAVID FRICKE


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