Music review: Keys matures as ‘Girl on Fire’ ignites

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Alicia Keys doesn’t do half-measures. Her fifth studio album, “Girl on Fire,” comes on hard and fast, seemingly stripped but rich in sound, triumphant to the point of a cinematic epic scope. It’s her first release since marrying producer-rapper Swizz Beatz and the birth of their son, Egypt.


Keys’ name pops up buoyantly on all writing and producing credits of this 13-track record, a perfect mirroring of its title. But that’s no surprise. She does, however, collaborate with some new folks – including Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean, Jamie xx and Emeli Sande – and that helps make the album eclectic, while maintaining Keys’ signature – and stunning – sound.


The Grammy winner’s voice feels unstoppable and free, channeling the martial pop of Beyonce on “New Day,” the romantic flourishes of Toni Braxton on the Maxwell-assisted “Fire We Make” and the bewitching auditory imagery of Tori Amos on the album’s grand finale, “101.” Nicki Minaj adds her brand of edge to the title track and lead single, while Keys’ toddler, Egypt, pulls an adorable coda on the jazzy industrial “When It’s All Over.”


“Girl on Fire” feels organically fed with inspiration, from the drops of light of “Listen to Your Heart” to the weird urban sounds of “Tears Always Win” to the funky reggae riffs of “Limitless.”


‘Wu-Block’

Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block are two of the most respected groups within the hip-hop realm.


Now, some of the members from the clans have joined forces to produce an album under the name Wu-Block, spearheaded by rappers Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch. Their collaborative effort results in a solid piece of work on the 16-track album, which also features Jadakiss, Method Man, Styles P, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck.


The self-titled album has a soulful vibe meshed with hardcore, metaphoric rhymes. That’s certainly evident on the album’s first track, “Crack Spot Stories,” featuring Raekwon and Jadakiss, and “Guns for Life,” with Styles P.


The album hits its peak on “Drivin’ Round,” featuring Erykah Badu, Masta Killa and GZA. It’s a smooth track with each rapper offering a thoughtfully harsh perspective, detailing the state of his or her poverty-stricken neighborhood.


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