Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Since her last album in 2007, singer Jill Scott has gone through a divorce with both her husband and record company, given birth to a child, found new love and then weathered another break-up. The real-life turmoil underscores Scott’s fourth and most emotionally conflicted album, “The Light of the Sun” (Blue Light/Warner Bros.)
The Philadelphia artist’s messages of self-knowledge and self-empowerment have in many ways never been tested more explicitly. When she purrs, “Love has done me wrong, I need your healing,” she lets listeners eaves-drop on her life.
Yet Scott’s resilience is never in question. The music oozes a loose, in-studio vibe, including snippets of conversation. She’s perfected a style that toggles between singing and conversing, and balances more conventional pop structure with spontaniety. At times, she stretches songs past their freshness date (the nine-minute “La Boom Vent Suite” drifts after its inviting intro) and sometimes provides little more than a tantalizing tease (the aptly named “Quick”).
But working the undefined intersection of R&B, neo-soul, hip-hop and jazz, the singer consistently projects a relaxed authority, strutting confidently with Anthony Hamilton on “So in Love” or testifying sensually over slow hand claps in “Rolling Hills.” Her willingness to experiment pays off handsomely on “All Cried Out Redux,” which improbably creates a winning mix out of Doug E Fresh’s human beatbox percolations and ragtime piano.
Though Scott addresses some heavy subjects, she’s not crushed by them. She cracks proud and wise on “Womanifesto” and simply cracks up during the ebullient girl-group hi-jinks of “Shame.” Talk about grace under fire.
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