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Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship (Universal/Motown)


India.Arie has always sounded a little too much like the musical equivalent of Oprah. The singer-songwriter's music (best exemplified by her debut, Acoustic Soul) has always centered on overly positive, Afrocentric songs that embrace love, life, and the challenges of womanhood. Her first two albums were innovative experiments with a fresh folk style of R&B -- sometimes sexy and sensitive, other times preachy and pretentious -- but always a sensible girl's ballast to sultry divas like Beyoncé and Mariah Carey.

Her latest long-player, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, finds the acoustic queen of neo-soul happily playing her guitar in the sunshine again. Backed by pensive pianos, funky acoustic R&B rhythms, and crystal-clear production work, Arie sings about finding her inner beauty ("I Am Not My Hair"), celebrating her body ("Private Party"), and picking up the pieces after a broken relationship ("Wings of Forgiveness"). There are certainly high points, like the hip-hop pop of "There's Hope" and the Rascal Flatts country collaboration "Summer," but overall this is the same India.Arie we heard two albums ago -- passionate, positive, but by now a bit predictable.

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