She’ll Take That

Is Alicia Keys a shameless Prince mimic, or a smooth criminal?

That’s a minor flaw in a song that largely satisfies, which can’t be said of a few other tracks on the CD. “Go Ahead,” with a forgettable melody and droning chorus, is the weakest link for me. Inexplicably, that tedious chorus is reprised in the very next track, “Superwoman,” which should have soared on the strength of Keys’ lyrics but barely manages to get off the ground.

Get past those less-than-stellar cuts, however, and you’ll hear the gifted singer/songwriter in Keys take charge on the most memorable material “As I Am” has to offer. When she takes on a weary, wary, yet ultimately hopeful tone in “The Thing About Love,” Keys is as convincing about love’s costs and rewards as she ever was in “Fallin'” or “If I Ain’t Got You,” among the best songs of her young career.

What finally wins me over, though, is the CD’s next-to-last track. When Keys sings “Tell Me Something,” with all the urgency of “Like You’ll Never See Me Again,” plus the maturity and poignancy of “The Thing About Love,” I’m sold.

Her cry, part outpouring, part proclamation, brings “As I Am” full circle: “Don’t wanna wait to bring you flowers/waste another hour/let alone another day/I’m gonna tell you something . . . won’t wait till it’s too late.” And I’m listening to every word she has to say.

Tracie Fellers is a writer and editor who lives in Greensboro, N.C.