India.Arie begins her first CD since 2002’s Grammy-winning Voyage to India with the quintessential New Age mantra ”God grant me the serenity…” If that triggers your gag reflex, steer clear. But if you’re not turned off by earnest expressions of self-righteousness set to comforting folk-tinged R&B, then Testimony just may be your cup of decaffeinated jasmine tea.
How pious is Arie? ”Wings of Forgiveness” finds her name-dropping Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Christ as she bids a lover adieu, while the image of lynching she invokes on ”India Song” is used to deliver a hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner message. What keeps such sanctimony from becoming overbearing is her gift for warmly evocative Stevie Wonder/Minnie Riperton/Tracy Chapman melodies. She’s occasionally gently funky, as on ”I Choose” (with Bonnie Raitt). Mostly, though, she purveys sentiments like ”I wanna live with an open heart.” Corny? Maybe. But Testimony should resonate with the spiritual-not-religious crowd. For everyone else, well, there’s always Lil’ Kim.