Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, holds court as an eclectic array of stars - from Frank Sinatra and Keith Richards to Elton John and Whitney Houston - sit in with her on the collaborations, most of them previously released, in her latest CD Jewels in the Crown. And while there is some padding, there are some real gems, like "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" with Eurythmics. But it's "What Y'All Came to Do," a funky throwdown with John Legend that really is worth it.
When you've set the bar as high as Alicia Keys has with her Grammy-winning first two studio albums, you've got a tough act to follow. But the singer-pianist continues to scale artistic heights on As I Am. While not veering too much from the Keys playbook - classic R&B with an ear to contemporary hip-hop, heavy on the ballads - it hardly strikes a bad note. Highlights include the hit first sing "No One," a soulful declaration of love and devotion; "Lesson Learned," a blues-streaked collaboration with John Mayer; and "Superwoman," a powerful, gospel-ish ladies' anthem.