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Alicia Keys 

As I Am (J)

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Like many of her R&B contemporaries, Alicia Keys comes up short in the melody department. She and her peers possess the chops, the feel, and even the look of their predecessors, but they just don't have their tunes. So Keys' collaborative outreach on her third studio album, As I Am, doesn't seem like a bad idea . . . at least on the surface.

Unfortunately, the highest-profile pairings end up the limpest. John Mayer's lifeless "Lesson Learned" is the worst offender, but Linda Perry's three contributions aren't her best work either — replacing Keys' natural grit with slick pop-soul knockoffs. Much better are the charming "Teenage Love Affair" and "Wreckless Love," which strike the perfect balance between hummability and soulful heft. And "Like You'll Never See Me Again," a stunning, spare slow-jam, might just be the best thing Keys has ever done. It's also the only song on As I Am penned solely by Keys with her longtime partner, Kerry "Krucial" Brothers — suggesting the help she needed might have been there all along.

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