JILL SCOTT: The Original Jill Scott (Hidden Beach)

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It was something like 12 years ago that Jill Scott broke through. She posed the question “Who is Jill Scott?” and since then we’ve started to find the answer… but it’s doubtful if we’ll ever get the full picture as the lovely lady seems to be forever reinventing herself – or at least adding string after string to her metaphorical bow.

Summer saw the lovely ‘Light Of The Sun’ album – her first full set since 2007. It confirmed her status as a pre-eminent soulstress and now her old label, Hidden Beach, hit us with this new 12 tracker… a selection of old recordings (put together, we’re told, with Jill’s full co-operation) that have lain in the vault for the last few years. When albums like this are released, they always beg the question as to why the music was never released in the first place. Everything here is “perfect”. That’s to say – polished, professional and “finished” – and any track would have graced any of her previous LPs. There’s only one item that you might consider contentious; it’s ‘Dear Mr And Mrs. Record Company’. It’s a biting look at the record industry from the point of view of the serious, sensitive artist and delivered in the style of a southern soul ballad (e.g. ‘Mr And Mrs. Untrue’). You can understand why the label might baulk at releasing it… but, hey, Hidden Beach was always supposed to be a bunch of liberals and they’ve put it out now – thankfully. It’s a great cut – typically Jill Scott.

But then so too is the rest of the album. ‘Wondering Why? (You Don’t Talk To Me)’ is a lovely tune – a perfect summation of the art of Jill Scott while ‘I Don’t Know (Gotta Have You)’ is a classic nu/neo soul manifestation. The set offers lots of pretty ballads too and even a shot at jazz – the languid, ‘Holding On’. There are only two surprises. First a great cover of Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ (produced by Jazzy Jeff, by the way) and a homage to/pastiche of Donna Summer’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’. It’s not the same song; it’s called ‘Love To Love’, but its roots are certainly in that breakthrough groanathon… and here – without the Summer excesses – it’s much more focused and the more sensual for it. It helps add to the Jill Scott mystery. Here she plays a sensual vamp – at odds maybe with her avowed feisty feminism; elsewhere on the set (and indeed on all her albums) there’s a real, warm womanliness –again at odds with the superficial image we may have of her. Back in the day she asked “Who Is Jill Scott?”… maybe we’re nowhere nearer to a proper answer.

(BB) 4/5