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    Album Reviews: Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship by India.Arie

    India.Arie has simple goals; as stated in the letter to her listeners that appears in the Testimony liner notes, she merely wants to make music that "will speak to you in exactly the way your soul is calling out for."

    Wow. Well, maybe it doesn't seem so ludicrous when people have called you the "Oprah of the music world." Indie.Arie is clearly looking to deliver listeners from evil, to be a guiding light, and that's noble and all (if a tad pretentious), but the dilemma is that the lyrics on Testimony are -- by far -- the weakest part of the album. It begins with that hackneyed Alcoholics Anonymous prayer ("God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change…") and goes on to dispense a million platitudes about self-love and inner peace and God and holding on to all three. It's Oprah, but reduced to the "you go, girlfriend" episodes.

    Granted, platitudes can provide strength, particularly when given voice by someone with India.Arie's effortless cool. Perhaps her most valuable skill is her vocal restraint; it counteracts her "never met a motivational poster I didn't like" approach to lyrics. On the mic, she never pushes herself into histrionics, and doesn't mistake volume or long notes for proof of emotion. When she made her splash as a Grammy-winning, platinum-selling artist, it was ostensibly as an R&B artist, or "neo soul." Even then that oversimplified her style, and now she's still eager to grow beyond genre walls. That openness to exploration results in two collaborations that are among the album's highlights: the playful "Summer" with country's Rascal Flatts and bassmaster Victor Wooten, and the cinematically uplifting anthem "I Am Not My Hair," with hip-hop influenced crooner Akon.

    "Good Mourning" works in an effective orchestral arrangement that doesn't overwhelm the soulful vocals. It shows that India.Arie is plenty capable on her own, particularly when she's digging deeper and not just settling for the sunshiney, self-help vibe. When she tells about "the greatest story never told" in the heartbroken "These Eyes," featuring one of her most committed and impressive vocals, it's infinitely more compelling than an Arrested Development-styled reminder to thank God because "it doesn't cost a thing to smile" ("There's Hope"). - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert

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