- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

There was a whole lotta love in Rock Creek Park on Friday night when India.Arie played the Carter Barron Amphitheatre.

Much of it came from the neo-soul singer herself, whose upbeat lyrics speak of hope, forgiveness and self-confidence.

The crowd sent back as many good vibes as they got, with fans at the sold-out show eager to spread the India.Arie R&B; gospel.

In an era when most female singers sell themselves with their sex appeal, India.Arie is refreshingly contrary. She poked fun at her sisters when she appeared onstage all in white, with a short skirt and long, straight black hair that reminded some in the audience of supermodel Naomi Campbell.

The image was in sharp contrast to her current hit single “I Am Not My Hair,” in which she recalls her varied coiffures and the epiphany that came when she shaved her head: “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am a soul that lives within.” The crowd went wild when, as expected, she tore off her wig to reveal shorn locks.

India.Arie has a strong, slightly husky voice of which she makes good use. She’s not quite as good on the guitar or piano, both of which she played briefly. The bass was a bit heavy at times, almost overpowering — but her voice shined through.

“I Choose,” a funky track from “Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship,” which debuted last month at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, was a highlight. It started and ended with a nice a cappella chorus with her backup singers. Indeed, those harmonies were among the best parts of the show and were fully on display during another a cappella cover, of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”

The audience, on the other hand, provided the vocals for the beginning of “Talk to Her,” from “Voyage to India,” her 2002 album: “When you talk to her, talk to her like you want somebody to talk to your mama. Don’t get smart with her, have a heart to heart with her just like you would with your daughter.”

India.Arie had a slight misstep in “Interested” from the same album, but she and her band handled the mix-up well, smoothly continuing the song, which features a jazzy guitar and dance-y beats.

What she did not handle so well was her reviewers. More than once she let off small rants about critics who have given her new album mixed notices. “Testimony” consists of personal songs she wrote while healing from a breakup. Her words aren’t bitter, though; instead, the album’s theme is forgiveness. “Some of the people at the newspapers don’t like that,” she said.

It’s certainly true that India.Arie’s relentlessly positive lyrics can be trite at times. The lyric “It doesn’t cost a thing to smile” recalls the old McDonald’s menu item that listed “Smiles” at no charge. However, she also can hit a deep note, as in “Private Party,” in which she celebrates her body and herself: “Sometimes I’m alone but never lonely, that’s what I’ve come to realize. I’ve learned to love the quiet moments, the Sunday mornings of life.”

India.Arie should learn to quit taking the reviews so personally. The standing-room-only crowd at Carter Barron loved her and her inspirational words. She should care more about what they think.

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