Jill Scott Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds, Vol. 2 Review

Released 2004.  

BBC Review

A superb collection by an artist in her prime.

Daryl Easlea 2012

It’s always interesting to see how an artist follows a critically lauded and groundbreaking (not to mention mega-selling) debut. There are three options: eschew its success and take a sharp left turn; repeat with diminishing returns; or develop, take time and create an album that is equal or worthy.

With the weight of the plaudits that were heaped on Jill Scott’s 2000 debut, Who Is Jill Scott?, it would have been easy for her to follow either of the first two options. Thankfully, after a four-year wait broken only by the live-material-and-extras collection Experience Jill Scott 826+ and originally entitled The Truth, Beautifully Human was a notable progression for Scott.

Created with over a dozen producers, including Raphael Saadiq and long-term collaborators Karma Productions, the album bears many of the leisurely, nostalgic RnB trademarks of neo-soul, yet Scott’s voice and subject matter elevates it above anything generic. Although perhaps not as immediate as her debut, Beautifully Human is a slow-burning work of considerable depth.

The album is full of candour: from the first words of opening song proper I’m Not Afraid – "I am not afraid to be your lady / I am not afraid to be your whore" – her forthrightness is pervasive. Tracks like Whatever, Spring Summer Feeling and Golden are irresistible.

Scott’s poetry roots are ever-present – Cross My Mind is effectively a poem set to minimal piano and beatbox with an infectious chorus. It won Scott a Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in 2005.

Family Reunion captures the joy and pathos of a barbeque in the sun. With lines such as "Someone turns Frankie Beverly on the stereo and Ruby starts rocking her one good hip," you feel that you are opening Scott's family photo-album and looking inside.

Beautifully Human is in honour of Minnie Riperton, and it is easy to hear her influence throughout. Album closer I Keep/Still Here is redolent of Riperton’s best work, a message of strident self-empowerment delivered sweetly and sincerely.

With a sleeve full of pictures from her youth, Beautifully Human is a deeply personal album that, while reflective, rarely strays into indulgence. It is the sound of an artist enjoying herself. Often sounding exhilarated by her own performance or occasionally collapsing into laughter, it is hard not to lose yourself in her intimate, upbeat universe.

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