As I Am
Unlike most singers cast in the diva role, who are all about pipes and persona, Alicia Keys is a multi-faceted artist adept at songwriting and arranging as well as vocal emoting. For that reason, she's among the current performers least in need of help from studio pros — yet the fingerprints of big-dollar assistants are all over As I Am. Their influence isn't fatal, but the disc feels less distinctive than it should given the talent of the performer pictured on its cover.
The main string-puller here is Pink collaborator Linda Perry, who assists on numbers such as “Superwoman,” a relatively lukewarm popper that requires a Herculean effort from Keys to lift off the ground. Also problematic is “Lesson Learned,” co-starring the Man With the Bland, John Mayer.
“Wreckless Love,” which Keys handles on her own, is far livelier, the format-crossing hit “No One” simmers persuasively, and the album as a whole remains thoroughly listenable. Still, As I Am would have been stronger if it allowed Keys to show who she truly is. — Michael Roberts