Summary

Back with Motown, India.Arie is rejuvenated for her fifth album, which follows a lengthy hiatus. A series of mishaps, combined with some dissatisfaction regarding the sound of her recordings, prompted the break. She even contemplated leaving the industry. However, only the most attentive listeners will hear a considerable difference between SongVersation and the Testimony albums. Largely a low-key, gently uplifting affair with a soft, warm glow, 11 of its 16 tracks are enhanced with assistance from several Turkish musicians -- including percussionists, horn players, an oudist, and the Istanbul Strings -- who were recorded at the studio of Sezen Aksu (one of the guests on Testimony, Vol. 2). Longtime co-producer and instrumentalist Shannon Sanders remains, while new associate David Ryan Harris (Dionne Farris, John Mayer) is another major factor. The album's upbeat tone is set with the driving "Just Do You," a career highlight boasting a chorus that recalls the pre-chorus of Michael Jackson's "Rock with You." Apart from certain accents from the Turkish musicians, none of the material will surprise anybody. Sweet, sighing, relaxed numbers like "Flowers" ("You're the moral compass directing me to light") and "Cocoa Butter" ("You are like cocoa butter on my heart") are among the most India.Arie-like songs laid down. Everything -- most exemplified by "Break the Shell," inspired by an encounter with Cicely Tyson -- transmits positivity, even when she admits that, as a woman "almost four decades in" with neither a lifelong partner nor children, she's unsure of her position in life. It's evident that Arie's in a good place, both creatively and personally, yet SongVersation is not about self-satisfaction. She has no trouble bringing her listeners along. ~ Andy Kellman