Georgia (by way of Denver) peach india.arie has scored three consecutive hit albums by being an R&B neo-hippie. With self-help lyrics and positive affirmations straight out of an Oprah episode, and a rootsy, natural visual presentation that sets her apart from the average curve-flaunting female singer, india brought a fresh approach to modern soul music. The fact that her guitar-playing made her a complete rarity in R&B didn’t hurt, either. She’s won a handful of Grammy Awards and generally done quite well for herself.
So, with those three hits under her belt, the question you may ask is “Will india decide to change things up for album #4?” They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and Testimony Vol. 2: Love & Politics finds the singer exploring matters of the heart as well as expressing her social consciousness with the same folk/soul mix that has brought her success for the past 8 years. You won’t find any broken-hearted ballads or angry missives here. Testimony Vol. 2 is strictly in the “I love you, you love me, let’s all love each other” vein…and what’s wrong with that?
Well, in this cynical, apathetic world we live in, a singer like india.arie sometimes comes off as precious and sanctimonious (come on, the back cover of her album has a mission statement!), so a deep breath might need to be taken before we jump into this album. Yet however pretentious she may be, all is forgiven once she opens her mouth and that buttery, thick voice comes out. Besides, even though her lyrics may occasionally be of the eye-rolling variety, you’ve got to give props to india for staying true to herself and not bowing to people pushing her to be a conformist.
While there’s not one standout track on Testimony Vol. 2, the consistency of the album is broken with a couple of examples of mild experimentation. Ever wondered what india.arie would sound like backed by a butt-shakin’ Miami bass track? Check out “Therapy”, where india slows that sound down, places her acoustic guitar over it, and comes up with a winning track, as well as the most pop radio-centric song of her career. On the other side of the coin, there’s “Chocolate High”, a duet featuring Musiq Soulchild, who has been linked to india in the past. The two definitely have a chemistry, and they play off of each other’s vocals with an ease that very few duet partners have nowadays.
India’s interesting taste when it comes to covers (she covered Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” on her last album) extends to this album, where she tackles Sade’s “Pearls”. India’s version takes the plot of the song, set in Somalia and Rwanda, and gives it music to match. While not as haunting as the original, it nevertheless packs a wallop. Other highlights include the Stevie Wonder-esque “Yellow” (featuring newcomer Terrell Carter), the bluesy “Better Way” (the woman can definitely play her instrument), and the dramatic “Long Goodbye”, which contains arie’s best vocal performance on record so far, and is just a guitar solo away from being an ‘80s power ballad. The big-ticket guest appearances are kept to a bare minimum after her last album featured everyone from Akon to Rascal Flatts. The only “name” artist to appear on Testimony, Vol. 2 besides Musiq Soulchild is the much-missed MC Lyte, who drops an efficient 16 bars on the self-explanatory “Psalms 23”.
If there’s any knock on this album, it’s that it keeps more or less the same tempo throughout. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it prevents any one song from sticking out. So, while it’s safe to say that Testimony Vol. 2 won’t catch on in today’s instant gratification-type climate, it’s an album that’s a satisfying listen straight through. And everyone needs a little positivity in their life, right?