Like the new album's title suggests, the songs on Alicia Keys' first album in four years are present and aware, addressing her life's complications and her activism.
There is a new energy about her music, probably informed by the causes she champions such as feminism, girls' education and the no-make-up movement.
"Who says I must conceal what I'm made of? Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem," she states for the record, all upbeat on Girl Can't Be Herself with its tinkling piano refrains.
On Holy War, she gets into a heavier theme, singing of wars ("If war is holy and sex is obscene/then we got it twisted in this lucid dream") and imploring the listener to "love somebody/instead of polishing the bombs of holy war".
A girl from a migrant background makes bad choices on She Don't Really Care_1 Luv, before realising the ultimately empowering message: "I was looking for knowledge to sing my song/But now I know that I am wisdom on my own."
Keys' independent spirit shines in this socially engaged record, which is closer to the shimmering soul of Solange than the pop-centric hits of Rihanna.
She is not one to rest on her laurels and bask in her comfort zone of piano-driven pop R&B tunes either. Instead, acoustic guitars and percussive beats - courtesy of her husband and hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz - bring her into neo-soul territory.
Peppered with dialogues and spoken word interludes by the likes of former Black Panther Party chairman, Elaine Brown, the heavier undertone of this record compared with her previous albums is apparent, but never overbearing. Keys has truly arrived.
The virtuosity of Chinese piano phenomenon Yuja Wang is well known. This compilation rehashes highlights from her earlier recordings, including pieces by Chopin, Brahms, Ravel, Stravinsky and Ligeti and a platter of virtuosic transcriptions by Horowitz, Cziffra and Volodos.
THE BEST & RARITIES
Yuja Wang, Piano
Deutsche Grammophon 4826653 (CD + DVD)
She tantalisingly offers four new tracks, where digital dexterity is the main draw, from Scarlatti's Sonata In G Major (K.455) to a live performance of Prokofiev's Toccata, where memories of a young Martha Argerich are rekindled. That she is able to bring out the vertiginous runs in Art Tatum's version of Tea For Two is a testament to her versatility.
The accompanying DVD, titled Through The Eyes Of Yuja, a 49-minute film by Anais and Olivier Spiro, provides glimpses of a young jet-setting artist's life on the road. From Kansas City to Zurich to Caracas, she is seen rehearsing and performing works such as Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto.
She acquits herself as a modest and mostly likable personality, besides being a true servant of music. Fans of her hyper-charged pianism (and low-cut outfits) will need no further encouragement in acquiring this album.
Chang Tou Liang