Alicia Keys --
As I Am (J Records) For all her formidable talents (which include a honey-coated voice and a self-assurance that has kept her firmly in control of her own music and career), the knock on Alicia Keys has always been that her R&B; was long on heart and short on hooks. It's a complaint she evidently took seriously, because her third studio album enlists the help of John Mayer and professional song doctor Linda Perry in an obvious quest to make Keys a little more pop friendly. The funny thing is, those high-profile collaborators add almost nothing to As I Am. Mayer's co-written "Lesson Learned" is plodding, inoffensive lite-rock, while Perry's trio of tunes aims for Philly soul and settles for Velveeta. The star among the guests turns out to be producer Jack Splash, whose "Wreckless Love" offers a swinging hip-hop backdrop for Keys' breathless come-on. However, it's the single track written by just Keys and her longtime collaborator, Kerry "Crucial" Brothers, that is clearly the disc's highlight. "Like You'll Never See Me Again" is a gorgeous, shimmering ballad.
Trisha Yearwood --Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love (Big Machine) Trisha Yearwood's 2005 album didn't manufacture hits the way she did in the '90s, when she was among country's most bankable vocalists, but her first new disc in four years did provide fresh assurance that hers remains one of the genre's most versatile voices. The 43-year-old Georgia native sounds equally appealing on her latest, with tunes that emphasize the homespun qualities that are her strength. Earthy presence is a mainstay of her singing, adding color as she powers the punchy drive of "They Call It Falling for a Reason" and shifts from robust belting to lyrical caresses amid fluttering mandolin on "Not a Bad Thing."