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Theres nothing like taking on the big issues, and thats exactly what India.Arie does on her powerful third album Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship. The title alone is an unmistakable signal that in the more than three years since her last Grammy winning album, Voyage to India appeared, India has grown even more ambitious. That should hardly be a surprise. After all, her 2001 debut album, Acoustic Soul, which earned her seven Grammy nominations and sold more than two million copies, announced that an artist who is unafraid to speak her mind had entered the music scene.
India continues to make good on that promise. Testimony explores relationships with the honesty, depth and vulnerability that she has made her hallmark. Floating on hypnotic rhythms and delicate melodies, the album travels a journey from heartbreak to acceptance to transcendence, and communicates all the personal wisdom gathered along the way. The title of the albums centerpiece sums it up: This is IndiaSong, the latest chapter of what she intends to be her great, big body of work.
I couldnt help but write about all the lessons I was learning about what relationships are, India says about the albums genesis. She had come through a painful breakup and realized that survival was merely the first step on her path of independence. I wanted to make sure that I was telling my truth, that I could stand behind it, she continues. I saw Free from 106 and Park, and I told her about the album when I was almost done with it. She said, People dont need you to say something thats happy. They look at you and say, Whats India going to tell us next about where shes at? That was soothing.
These songs, then, are smoky, soulful bulletins from the front, new sources of inspiration for Indias millions of fans. The first half of Testimony finds India mapping an internal landscape of loss. Its crazy how much I miss/A simple good morning kiss, she sings quietly on Good Mourning, and the unaffected directness of that lyric eloquently conveys the hurt in her heart. A bold, beautiful cover of Don Henleys The Heart of the Matter establishes what might ultimately be Testimonys most profound theme: forgiveness. If you keep carrying that anger/Itll eat you up inside, she sings. Its a gripping performance, and she means it. Thats exactly how I felt, India says of her vocal on the song. Your voice is wherever you are, and the voice you hear on that track is telling a story along with the lyrics. I was right there.
On the lovely Wings of Forgiveness, India defines that essential theme in her own generous terms: Youre only human/Lets break free of this gravity of judgment/And fly high on the wings of forgiveness. Akon joins India on I Am Not My Hair, a song that returns her to the issue that first brought her national attention with the hit Video: those women should not be defined by their looks. As a Black American woman, a lot of your integrity is dictated by how you wear your hair, she explains. The concept for the song was sparked when I decided to cut my locks, and all the different attitudes people had about it. This is my hair and its my life. Ill choose how I express myself.
That desire to live free of expectations also sits at the heart of I Choose, a song whose buoyant funk gets lifted by Bonnie Raitts guest turn on guitar. When I see women like her, Im inspired, because I see that you can be strong and feminine, India says of Raitt. That song is saying, I choose what kind of woman I want to be, and shes one of those women who chooses for herself. In an even more striking collaboration, Gary Lenox of Rascal Flatts harmonizes with India on the wistful Summer. I love country music, she says. If someone else were to sing some of my songs, they would be country songs, with their story lines and clever wordplay. Plus, I just love great singers, and Gary is a great singer.
Asked what she would like listeners to take away from Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship (she is already gathering songs for Vol. 2), India sighs, thinks for a moment, and then says, I always pray that God will allow my music to touch whoever its for in the way that they need. I always pray for that.
But, on my own human level, she continues, when I was growing up, I remember very few songs that talked about what relationships were really like. So, for people who are still growing and learning, I hope this album will be a window into what it really means to love somebody the triumph and the pain, and how it all comes together. And for people who have had their hearts broken, I hope these songs will speak to them with the laser-point accuracy that is comforting about music, whenever you find it.
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