HIL ST. SOUL: ‘Black Rose’ (Label: Shanachie)

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HIL ST. SOUL: 'Black Rose'

With a degree in biochemistry from Westminster University, Zambia-born/London-raised soul singer Hilary Mwelwa could have made a big noise in the scientific world – instead, her interest in writing and performing music set her life on an altogether different career trajectory that resulted in the birth of Hil St. Soul, an R&B duo she formed with multi-instrumentalist Victor Redwood Sawyerr (for the uninitiated, the duo’s name is a pun on the vintage US cop show ‘Hill St. Blues’). This album, the pair’s third on the US indie label, Shanachie – and their fourth overall – is as good as their previous studio efforts. Mwelwa’s voice has a golden, luminous quality and shines brightly on this top-notch new set of songs. Soulful and traditional enough to appeal to old school fans while possessing a contemporary urban edge that attracts R&B and even hip-hop aficionados, Hil St. Soul have a cosmopolitan sound that has made significant inroads into the US R&B charts in recent years. Among the numerous highlights of this new 11-track opus are the uplifting ‘We Were In Love,’ the plaintive ‘Sweetest Days’ and the warmly harmonised ode to heartbreak, ‘Broken Again.’ ‘Gravity’ contrasts a sparse hip-hop beat with sampled string glissandi and harpsichord parts while the title track welds sweet, soulful harmonies straight out of the church to a bumpy hip-hop beat that’s spiced with a soupcon of jazz guitar. The album also includes the duo’s heartfelt interpretation of India.Arie’s song ‘Life’ – Mwelwa’s vocal is particularly rich and sonorous here, ably supported by Redwood-Sawyer’s minimalist accompaniment. It’s just one of many fine, soulful, tracks on a consistently enjoyable set.
(CW) 4/5