Testimony: Vol. 2

Title: Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics

Artist: India.Arie

Label: Universal Republic Records/UMG

Catalog No.:  B0012572-02

Release Date: February 10, 2009

Following 2006’s Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, India.Arie’s new release continues her musical exploration of life, ethics, and philosophy.  Where Vol. 1 emerged out of personal heartbreak and introspection, Vol. 2 finds Arie in a more extroverted frame of mind, examining her own place in the world and her relationships with others (seen through romance, poverty, oppression, and religion.)   Arie’s neo-soul vibe has a more urban, electrified edge on this album, with more touches of blues, funk, and Latin rhythms, as well as the acoustic piano and gospel-tinged vocals that figured prominently on Vol. 1. A diverse range of guest artists, including reggae star Gramps Morgan, Côte d’Ivoirian singer Dobet Gnahoré, and Turkish pop queen Sezen Aksu, adds a breadth of musical influences from other styles and cultures.

As with Arie’s last release, Vol. 2 is punctuated with a short song motif, “Grains,” that occurs multiple times throughout the album as intro, outro, and interludes, organizing the album’s structure and providing a unifying idea through repetition and variation.  A prayer of gratitude and connection to the rest of humanity, it encapsulates Arie’s major theme for this album: “I’m grateful that you created me from the same grains, from the same thing / I’m grateful you never cease to amaze me, the way you love me.”  In a liner notes letter to her listeners, Arie writes about her history, the lessons learned through her career, and what she’s trying to say with Vol. 2. “I am a songwriter who writes about love,” she says; “The bottom line is these are my opinions about different things going on in the world and where I fit into all of it.”

Writing about love comes easy to Arie, and the first quarter of Vol. 2 most clearly displays her skills about love songs.  “Therapy”, featuring soaring backup vocals by Gramps Morgan, is the catchiest song on the album, building on the metaphor of love as a healing force.  The soul groove of “Chocolate High” (with Philly soul singer Musiq Soulchild) echoes old-school soul ballads, but its extended chocoholic imagery unfortunately strays over the line from sexy to just cheesy.  Love doesn’t always end happily, of course, so “The Long Goodbye” paints a picture of an imminent breakup viewed with sadness, sensuality, and the wisdom of experience.

Arie’s approach to politics takes several forms on this album.  Most obviously “political” are the two songs directly confronting poverty and oppression.  In the Latin-tinged “Ghetto”, Arie rails against the continued existence of ghetto conditions in the first and third worlds:  “the ghetto might as well be another country / the barrio might as well be another country / when you look around, you live in another country too.”

“Pearls”, originally by Sade, addresses the oppression of poor women in Africa; Arie’s cover features a mellow Afrobeat accompaniment rather than Sade’s static string accompaniment, as well as Dobet Gnahoré’s vocals, both of which add a musical evocation of Africa.  “The Cure,” a structural and thematic counterpart to “Therapy,” promotes love (romantic, but more importantly, spiritual) as the solution to most of the world’s problems, with Sezen Aksu’s backing vocals in Turkish suggesting a call to prayer and spiritual transcendence.  In this song, Arie also sings a defense of her overwhelmingly positive philosophy:  “It may seem that I’m looking at the world through rose-colored glasses / I believe that it’s so simple that sometimes it looks complicated / God’s love is like the sunshine / it’s there whether or not we recognize it / the most powerful energy in the universe, and all we have to do is use it.”  In this, she sums up both the holistic understanding of self, world, and spirit that she’s reached personally, and to which this album testifies.

Posted by Ann Shaffer