October 10, 2002

Take the Trip to India

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Many people believe that great albums have the ability to take their listeners on a journey to another land.

As for India.Arie, the R&B auteur who has a penchant for weaving her unique moniker into her work, that land is self-evident in her superior sophomore disk, Voyage to India.

It’s not an Aladdin-like excursion to the country housing the Taj Mahal and the Ganges river, but a trip that takes you to an India just as majestic, beautiful, and spiritual; it is the musically-diverse and intriguing world that is India.Arie.

If you’re having trouble placing a name with a face, you might remember India is that guitar-wielding singer/songwriter whose debut record, Acoustic Soul, was feted last year with seven Grammy Award nominations. Most likely, you last heard her on “Video,” the popular first single from Soul in which the words “India Arie” were prominently featured in the chorus.

Luckily she doesn’t stoop to such shameless self-promotion this go around, but she does take you into her universe, which includes her thoughts canvassing romance, respect and everything in between. It’s a good place to be, even better than than the world created by its predecessor, which outside of “Video,” lost itself in a drone of standard rhythm & blues fare.

Voyage reminds us that India is a better artist than Soul alone would have us believe (despite what the Recording Academy thinks) and that she has changed by honing her sound and creating an extremely easy-going and enjoyable album.

India reflects this newness in her introduction entitled “Growth,” where she laments, “the only thing/ constant in the world/ is change.” With her soft guitar strumming and purred voice, “Growth” unfortunately underestimates the rest of the album’s elevated tone.

Believe her, there is more change to come and it starts on the breezy second track, “Little Things,” which is also Voyage’s first single.

Without her trademark guitar, India may not yet have the vocal confidence to carry the song beyond its Caribbean-inspired roots, but “Things” still works well. Maybe she doesn’t even want the exaggerated caroling of say, her contemporary Alicia Keys. Just listen to her lusciously hum, “I do this for the love of music/ not for the glitter and gold.”

Nevertheless, her well-utilized touch of glitter and gold, namely an interpolation of “Hollywood,” originally recorded by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, turns up the song’s energy and a taped sound-bite of a baby laughing is reminiscent of “Isn’t She Lovely” from none other than India-beloved Stevie Wonder, from whom she also gleans the title (from one of his songs on album Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants).

When India isn’t deftly re-imagining her favorite artists’ styles, she’s creating her own with quality performances in “Talk to Her” and the Latin-flavored “Slow Down.” Both highlight India’s voice and instrumental prowess as well as the positive message of respecting one’s matriarchal kinships. Who knew you could do so much in a song?

The following tracks also build upon the album’s cheerful mood as “Headed in the Right Direction,” “The One” and “Beautiful Surprise” are each worthy allegories of the joys of love for oneself and others.

“The Truth,” another dramatic love song (in a good way), finds India discovering, “it’s almost like I knew this man from another life/ Like back then maybe I was his husband/ And maybe I was his wife.” Pretty deep.

Eventually this mysterious introspection, sunshine, and optimism song after song can be a bit taxing, especially after “Can I Walk With You,” which sounds like it was written for a “That’s What Friends Are For”-primed Dionne Warwick.

Before it’s too late, she takes a break with a one-minute interlude called “Gratitude.”

Be grateful too because when India returns she recoups on “Good Man” and “God is Real,” which blend refined thoughtful lyrics with first-class musical arrangements.

Technically the last track, “Real” is essentially about, God, but its feel never enters the bastion of Christian pop, instead its frenetic speaking parts paired with nature sounds is less gospel and much more Pure Moods.

The album’s last stop is the limited edition bonus track, “Interested,” which may not be on later prints of Voyage but should be, because its jaunty chorus is a proper way to end this lively collection.

So India occasionally preaches her ‘be happy’ motto over the edge throughout the album but in a Prozac nation, what’s wrong with a little joy? When you’re in need of some motivational speaking and non-traditional first-rate R&B, you may want to consider taking a Voyage to India.

Archived article by Carlos Perkins