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Alicia Keys 'Girl on Fire' smolders for the holidays

MISANI and STAN RYAN Special to the AmNews | 1/22/2013, 2:55 p.m.
Alicia Keys is on fire. And she is hotter than hot. She is sizzling! Luminously....
Alicia Keys 'Girl on Fire' smolders for the holidays

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Alicia Keys 'Girl on Fire' smolders for the holidays

Alicia Keys is on fire. And she is hotter than hot. She is sizzling! Luminously. Her fifth studio album, "Girl on Fire" (RCA Records), which was released on Nov. 27,, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, No. 1 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 1 on the Top Digital Albums chart in the U.S. Additionally, the album is currently the best-selling album in the country. Internationally, the album scored No. 1 on the iTunes chart in 19 countries for the popular vocalist, musician, songwriter and producer.

The title track has nearly reached 1 million single sales for the multi-platinum-selling Keys, winner of 14 Grammy awards. In addition, it is No. 3 on the digital singles sales chart, as it swiftly moves up the 40 radio charts. "Brand New Me," the first track on the album, is now the most introduced at urban radio formats. On top of all of this, "Girl on Fire" is the fourth album by Keys to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making Keys the first female R&B artist to have three consecutive No. 1 LP debuts on the Billboard 200 album chart.

"Girl on Fire" introduces a new stage in Keys' personal and professional life. Her maturity is obvious on the album, which is vibrantly colored with themes of life, love, hope, wisdom and empowerment. On a personal level, it speaks of a unique, talented female who has come into bloom. As she shares with her fans in the sleeve notes, "This is the most inspiring time of my life! There has been so much growth and so many experiences that have pushed me to become the woman I am today."

The album is the masterwork of a musician blessed with a gift that she, in turn, has nurtured. It is also that of a skilled songwriter who has keenly observed humanity, and in so doing, has written some of the most honest and graceful lyrics that speak to everyone. All the songs on "Girl on Fire" are exceptional musically and vocally, and every track is a lesson in Keys' creative prowess. The album is a great study of a master artiste at the top of her game, as the following four songs from the 12-track album demonstrate.

On the powerful anthem "Girl on Fire," an eight-bar intro of rap music over a big-sounding drum kit introduces Nicki Minaj's evocative rap. The haunting lyrics instantly pull listeners into Keys' dramatic world. The engaging build-up continues with 16 bars of synthesized emulation of the 1960s Mellotron keyboard. During the second half of the 16, Keys' signature piano sound (which has been sampled and sold and used by musicians on many records) is allowed to sit on top of the synthesizer, supporting as well as doubling its pattern, resulting in a retro yet current sound--and it is wicked!

At bar 16, Keys' powerful vocals come in strong with the hook, "This girl is on fire." The vocal at this point is mixed with a big-hall-type reverb and a long slapback delay for that big arena sound. This is also where the drums enter. Huge, rock-concert-type drums. The high-end percussion that we would normally hear is not present, leaving the frequency area where Keys' vocals sit uncrowned. This song is clearly written to be the song. And it is! Glory. And amen! It is unforgettable. (We can hardly wait for it to be performed live.) The instruments were clearly carefully selected to work well together while sounding minimalistic--not overproduced, big, but not forced. This is excellence!