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India.Arie

Voyage to India (Motown)

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The critical accolades and commercial success that greeted India.Arie's 2001 debut did not so much reflect Arie's ingenuity as they did the relative stasis of soul music, one of the few genres where a girl with a guitar could still be kind of novel.

But if Arie's inspirational jams made her come off sounding something like Tony Robbins's sista counterpart on last year's Acoustic Soul, Voyage to India is a more spiritual, assured affair. Whereas her debut was rife with self-esteem issues, Arie sounds more comfortable in her own skin this time around. "That ugly duckling grew up to be a swan," she sings on "Get It Together," and her words are realized on the commanding "Good Man," where Arie's voice is equally silky and stern; the heartrending hush of "The Truth"; and the buoyant "Can I Walk With You," which is like radio Zoloft.

All this helps compensate for the middling, sub-Sade soft rock on cuts like "Right Direction" and the neo-soul-by-the-numbers of the aforementioned "Get It Together." Granted, Arie is hardly breaking the R&B mold here, but unlike many of her inert counterparts, at least she's not growing any, either.

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