When 19-year-old singer-songwriter Alicia Keys was signed as the flagship artist to Clive Davis’ J Records label in 2000, few could have predicted the impact the Hell’s Kitchen native would have on popular music. But with the chart-topping success of her first single, “Fallin’,” the following summer-and a career-making endorsement from Oprah Winfrey-it was clear that a major artist had been born.
Twelve million dollars in album sales and an armload of Grammys later, Keys’ debut, “Songs in A Minor,” is now regarded as a touchstone record for the neo-soul genre. Ten years on, “Songs” has now been reissued in a pair of deluxe editions that, while not designed to lure new fans (if there are any left), should serve to satiate Keys’ considerable fan base while she works on her next album.
The album itself, which comprises the first disc of both reissue sets, holds up quite well after a decade. Her personal style-a blend of soulful belting, hip-hop flavored beats and classical piano (the opening track, “Piano & I,” even quotes Beethoven)-comes through fully formed here. She moves easily between styles, snatching from gospel, jazz and R&B to color her musical landscape.
The production, top-flight for its day, holds up for the most part-a few songs might have benefited from a softer touch (the cover of Prince’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me,” for example, lacks finesse), and for all the big names involved it’s the Keys-produced “Fallin’” that remains the standout track. But perhaps that’s just an element of the album’s precocious charm.
The deluxe edition of “Songs” adds a handful of extras, including two music videos and alternate versions of “A Woman’s Worth” and “Butterflyz,” among others. Major fans will want to skip directly to the three-disc collector’s edition, which adds a full CD of rarities, from a live rendition of “Light My Fire” to two of the artist’s early demo recordings. The bonus DVD offers an hour of content, including a new documentary on the making of the record, plus all four of the videos shot during that period.
The Collector’s Edition comes housed in a handsome, flat silver package and includes a booklet with rare photos and Keys’ own track-by-track commentary. Again, it’s not essential for the casual listener, but for many of Keys most rabid fans this package should be a minor gold mine.