In the 10 years since his last studio album, 1995's Conversation Peace, Stevie Wonder's influence has been evident on a whole new generation of major R&B talents—from D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill to Alicia Keys and John Legend—who probably started rocking Songs in the Key of Life in the cradle. So it's good to finally have the master himself back taking us to higher ground with the much-delayed A Time to Love. Thankfully, the new disc finds Stevie being Stevie, continuing to follow his own singular vision rather than the latest trends. (In fact, his sole nod to hip-hop is a subtle use of early emcee Doug E. Fresh as a human beatbox on the rhythmically propulsive opener "If Your Love Can Not Be Moved.") When Wonder joyously brings the funk on the highlight "Please Don't Hurt My Baby," which harks back to his '70s heyday, it's clear that, at 55, he's not ready to rest on his considerable catalog. The soulful sheen of love songs like "Passionate Raindrops" puts the sunshine back in our lives, while Wonder dims the lights to show his jazzy side on ballads such as "Moon Blue" and "How Will I Know." The latter is one of two songs featuring guest vocals by Aisha Morris, Wonder's 30-year-old daughter who, as a baby, was previously heard crying on "Isn't She Lovely." her father's tribute to her. Also showing love for Wonder here are Bonnie Raitt and Prince. Paul McCartney and India. Arie add guitar and vocals, respectively, to the African-textured title track, whose socially aware lyrics ("At this point in history we have a choice to make/ To either walk the path of love or be crippled by our hate") demonstrate why, although this may not be another Songs in the Key of Life, it is indeed time for Wonder to return.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Please Don't Hurt My Baby"
Alicia Keys Unplugged
When it comes to performing live, Alicia Keys is the anti-Ashlee. This performance, which took place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for an MTV Unplugged special that premiered last month, finds the singer-pianist confidently fronting an airtight band as she juices up faves like "Fallin' " and "If I Ain't Got You." The disc also features two solid new songs, including the name-dropping single "Unbreakable," and a gospel-charged cover of Brenda Holloway's "Every Little Bit Hurts." But on the umpteenth version of "Wild Horses," a duet with Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Keys fails to really hit her stride. Still, this should tide fans over until her next studio album.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Unbreakable"