India.Arie: More quiet than storm

Neo soul songbird returns with 'WORTHY'

India.Arie Worthy 1500
Photo credit: Courtesy SoulBird/BMG
WORTHY: India.Arie

As one of the young faces of neo soul, India.Arie’s slick, and somewhat retro 2001 debut, Acoustic Soul, brought a breath of fresh air to modern R&B, while remaining indebted to classic crooners such as Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack. Little has changed in 18 years. With her latest album, WORTHY (SoulBird/BMG), Arie’s combination of easy flowing grooves and occasionally light touches of reggae and jazz, along with a message of “love yourself” spirituality, at first appear inspirational. But these lyrical tropes become clichéd in songs such as “Hour of Love” and “Prayer for Humanity.” A seasoned artist should be able to dig deeper than “Our love can change the world,” sentiments that come across as naïve at best in “What If.” Arie also has lovin’ on her mind, so cue the sentimental lyrics about how much she’s “Crazy” and “In Good Trouble” with her man and how her partner has “That Magic.” Tinkling pianos, handclaps, and acoustic guitars mesh with programmed percussion for a sweet, generally stripped-down vehicle perfect for Arie’s stirring, smooth vocals. Her easy-on-the-ear hooky melodies and organic instrumentation feel refreshingly out of sync with whatever passes for commercial soul these days. But by the time we reach the folkie, James Taylor-styled title track, 14 songs in, with its hackneyed if heartfelt concept of “Every one of us is worthy,” the self-respect shtick and aurally caressing vocals feel repetitive. They used to call this genre the quiet storm. In Arie’s case, we could use less of the former and more of the latter. ★★★☆☆ — Hal Horowitz

★★★★★ This album will change your life | ★★★★☆ A truly great album | ★★★☆☆ A solid effort, worth a listen | ★★☆☆☆ No thanks | ★☆☆☆☆ Don't bother