By Chuck Arnold Jessica Herndon Kay West
December 10, 2012 12:00 PM

Alicia Keys

Girl on Fire |


On Girl on Fire’s first song-which follows one of those intros she does to flex her classical-piano chops-an impassioned Alicia Keys sings about being a “Brand New Me”: “Don’t be mad, it’s just a brand new kind of me/ Can’t be bad, I’ve found a brand new kind of free.” Well, at least musically, there wasn’t much wrong with the old Alicia. But after three stellar albums to kick off her career, the 14-time Grammy winner fell off, by her standards, on 2009’s The Element of Freedom. She’s back in blazing form on her latest (which, being her first as a wife and mother, might have better been titled Grown-Ass Woman on Fire). The empowering title track-featured here in its “Inferno Version” with Nicki Minaj-may be the first single, but it’s actually one of the weaker cuts. Better are tunes Keys cowrote with John Legend (the lush, Marvin Gaye-meets-Stevie Wonder “When It’s All Over”), Bruno Mars (the doo-wop throwback “Tears Always Win”) and Gary Clark Jr. (“Fire We Make,” a smoldering duet with Maxwell). Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé cowrote three ballads, including the regal “Not Even a King,” that are stripped down to the soul.

Kid Rock

Rebel Soul |


Who woulda thunk that Kid Rock would still be going strong more than 20 years after busting onto the scene as a rap-rocker? While he’s long moved away from hip-hop, his brand of redneck rock continues to hold up surprisingly well. Songs like the bluesy “Celebrate” will have you breaking into a rebel boogie.