ALICIA KEYS The Diary Of Alicia Keys (J Records) Rating: NNN
As tragic as it is to ponder Lauryn Hill's descent into unpolished spiritu-babble, I'm thrilled that neo-soul den-mother-in-training Alicia Keys has triumphantly appeared to wrest the boogie torch outta Hill's hands. Keys's solid sophomore effort is a set of sophisticated urban grinders. Some of the classy crooning here sounds like retreads of her earlier work - When You Really Love Someone swipes the hook from A Woman's Worth - but the best moments on Diary happen when Keys lets her hair down. She has big fun on Timbaland's rubbery 70s Motown funk joint Heartburn and the Bacharach-riffing If I Was Your Woman. Most amusing is the decision to throw Tony! Toni! Toné! into the mix. Haven't they been in retirement, like, forever?