By Sam Bleazard
Who is Jill Scott? She’s a poet, singer-songwriter, actress and business woman who first emerged in the coffee shops and spoken word slams of Philadelphia alongside groups like the Roots, “Jilly from Philly”. In recent years she’s starred in major Hollywood films (the James Brown biopic, ‘Get on up’), BBC/HBO dramas (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) and US comedy hits with Janet Jackson (‘Why did I get married I & II).
It’s easy to forget now that with her debut album she burst onto the scene, with not only one of the finest albums of that decade, but one of the great soul albums of all time, Words & Sounds volume 1. Along with artists such as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, but also Soul II Soul, Omar and Loose Ends this side of the pond, RnB was given a refresh via hip hop for a new millennium and the neo soul tag was born. While some of her peers have suffered their ups and down or fallen by the wayside in the intervening years, Jill Scott has proven herself to be an artist with staying power.
The weight of that audacious debut initially affected the quality of her subsequent releases, such as a mistimed double live set, but albums in recent years such as Words & Sounds Volume 3 have seen a real return to form. Woman picks up the honey drenched sound that delighted listeners in the first place, but also ventures into territory that wouldn’t have been out of place on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. We kick off with the spoken poetry and rim shots of Wild Cookie, a dismissive brush off to a former beau, and move swiftly onto Prepared, a cut about getting all aspects of your life in focus.
‘Run run run’ is pure upbeat 60s pastiche, and lots of fun, while ‘Can’t Wait’ is a mid-tempo slow burner – one for candle light and essential oils. So far so good but Woman is not just a solid set played safe, there are a couple of stone cold classics on here, ‘Lighthouse’ is the first of these. “I am your shelter, keep you safe from harm…lay your burdens now”, it’s a timely reminder that nobody does chill RnB like Jill Scott, and it’s very much her trademarked sound and blueprint.
The reclamation of the RnB high ground continues on ‘Closure’, a superb up-tempo raucous romp of a song, with slight distortion on the vocals it sees a former lover get one final night in the Scott boudoir before being tossed out on his ear. It’s a high point and is already getting serious radio play on UK stations.
The album also has moments of gospel and nods to the soul greats, ‘You don’t know’ and ‘Back together’ being two of those, while ‘Cruisin’’ is a mellow track about summer, self-introspection and being on the cusp of committing long term, amidst the slight confusion of a new relationship.
However following ‘Say Thank You’, a psychedelic guitar infused journey taking in Portishead and Janelle Monae stylings along the way, if there’s one criticism of the album, it’s that it’s too long. There is without doubt one of the best ten to twelve track albums, of anyone’s career, here.
The need for tighter editing aside, it’s still a great album full of rich sounds and listening pleasure. Jill Scott is back, not that she ever went away – so be in no doubt who that main Woman is.