Alicia Keys, John Legend

What Missy Elliott and Timbaland are to future-shock hip-hop, these two are to neo-soul R&B right now: populists whose thirst for formal innovation never threatens a deep-seated desire to rock the radio. Though The Diary of Alicia Keys includes a few too many pages for me to make it all the way through, the album's terrific singles were some of the loveliest moments in pop last year, retro-minded heartache fortified with urban grit. On Get Lifted, newcomer Legend manages to turn his estimable session-guy background into a feel-good dialogue between the sacred and the profane.
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Mikael Wood