Alicia Keys — “If I Ain’t Got You”

A brief excursion into the dark arts of vocalism.

Take one part Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me”, one part Stevie Wonder bridge. Mix evenly: instant pop soul goodness.

She’s got it. I thought the first album was only intermittently spectacular, and “You Don’t Know My Name” — the first single from the current album — sustained only a few listens before the Kanye West smug-soul production became overpoweringly sacharine. But she clearly has the timing and power to hammer this song home. It’s just right: taut enough to haul the listener into the chorus, just laid back enough to tease you back into the verse. Just enough tension to bear the arrangement into each line without the appearance of effort; just enough to promise explosive depths without ever going beyond the capacity of this fairly fragile little song.

Imagine what a Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears would do with this song: it would just sit there, never more than a pretty album track. It’s not a knockout like “A Woman’s Worth”, and it doesn’t have the inherent tension of “Fallin’”. But this is a stunning single, and most of it is the vocal performance. Never too much, never too little.

Almost nobody can sing like this. Almost nobody. Let’s hope she doesn’t follow Whitney Houston and screw it up on bad material, bad production and being a pop star.

The sub-Chopin piano twiddlings can go, though.