India.Arie - Testimony: Vol. 2, Love and Politics (2009)

India.Arie
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With an earthy, organic demeanor, a honey-coated alto and an insistence on bringing a message with her music, India Arie Simpson took the scene by storm with her 2001 debut, Acoustic Soul. Over the years, thanks to self-esteem-building songs like "Video," "Little Things" and "I Am Not My Hair," the Denver, CO native became known, even celebrated, for her introspection and honesty. While some of her peers are content to create music only from behind carefully constructed facades, Ms. Arie never hesitates to delve into her personal heartaches, expose them to the masses and evolve beyond them in the process. Her fourth CD, a follow-up to 2006's Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, continues to filter life lessons through the healing power of song, but with more texture and perspective.

With an earthy, organic demeanor, a honey-coated alto and an insistence on bringing a message with her music, India Arie Simpson took the scene by storm with her 2001 debut, Acoustic Soul. Over the years, thanks to self-esteem-building songs like "Video," "Little Things" and "I Am Not My Hair," the Denver, CO native became known, even celebrated, for her introspection and honesty. While some of her peers are content to create music only from behind carefully constructed facades, Ms. Arie never hesitates to delve into her personal heartaches, expose them to the masses and evolve beyond them in the process. Her fourth CD, a follow-up to 2006's Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, continues to filter life lessons through the healing power of song, but with more texture and perspective.

Aside from the rich tapestry she weaves with her words, one of the gifts that sets India.Arie apart is her ability to turn lofty ideals into relatable experiences: "Ghetto" could've turned into a predictable diatribe against the struggle of rich vs. poor, but it actually describes the world as a smaller place than we realize and that many conditions are universal: "To be hungry in L.A., is like starving in Bombay. Homeless in Morroco, is a shelter in Chicago." "He Heals Me" finds her awash in the cleansing feeling that unconditional love brings, describing a gentle soul who understands her shortcomings and embraces her flaws: "And even when I'm wrong, he's still kind....he chooses his words wisely when he tells me I'm not right."  She is also unequaled in adding depth and dimension to everyday occurences. The upbeat "Yellow," featuring the velvety tones of Terrell Carter (from the Tyler Perry plays), equates the color spectrum to the ups and downs in a relationship: "There are times you make me see red, and then you shine your white. I get all pink inside....together me and you are purple, because we are so royal." Equally joyful is her ditty of a duet with Musiq Soulchild, "Chocolate High," comparing a love affair with the delectable richness of....well, that luscious dessert: "I crave you, I want you, every cell in my body needs you. Tasty like Hershey's and Nestle, you're rich like Godiva, boy you're just so sexy."

Whereas Jill Scott trounced her detractors with "Hate On Me," Ms. Arie lists a litany of negatives that she's endured over the years and remains firm against them all with resolve, The Word and a fiesty cameo by MC Lyte in "Psalms 23": "I've seen, money come between my best friend and me....I've been, through a couple of litigations: I've been, through character assassinations." Even with her elevated mindset, she's still vulnerable to loving the wrong man, and instead of slashing his tires or cursing him out, she succumbs to her passion, but still bids him adieu in the bittersweet "Long Goodbye."

There are some clunky moments ("Therapy" and the soon-tedious trio of "Grains" interludes)  scattered between the gems ("Rivers Rise," the breezy "A Beautiful Day" and her exquisitely rendered remake of Sade's classic,"Pearls"), but it doesn't negate the fact that Vol. 2.... is Ms. Arie's most emotional, illustrious and spiritually centered release yet. Because of her refusal to rest on her artistic laurels and the continuing transcendence of her lyrical and vocal range,Testimony: Vol. 2... is qualified as an early must-have CD for 2009.

By Melody Charles

 

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