Jill Scott has that unmistakable big brass voice, and it’s even eerier to listen to now, just months after watching a biopic about blues legend Bessie Smith. Scott’s voice is similarly cocky and demands you to be entranced. It woos, wails and does sick intonations. It makes you forget that the vocally untouchable Scott has her idiot moments. On her new album Woman, there’s a stretch at the end of “Closure”—a song about having one last post-breakup sexual relapse—where she pronounces every word with a prickling attitude and derision. “You want some of my time? You want some of my affection?” she sneers. “You want me to listen to you, baby? Aw, is that what you want from me?” That’s why Jill Scott is Jill Scott.
After hearing the first two singles leading up this album’s release, I predicted: “’Fool’s Gold,’” as a complement to “You Don’t Know,” makes it seem like Jill Scott is writing a great fuck-love thesis about falling for the deceit of a romantic con artist.” More than just painful, Woman sounds tough and secure, too, and seems to mostly take place well after the breakdown phase of heartache, when you remember everything about you that’s good. In the spirit of Bessie, Scott sounds every bit like a mutha when she sings, “I’m the boss lady, busy handling and managing,” and “Mama’s working your nerves/ Mama’s able, I’ll be right back when I’m done.” The music, like much of her music, is as intense and melodramatic as a spoken word scene in Love Jones.
This album doesn’t necessarily feel fresh or definitive, but it’s everything you love about a Jill Scott album. There’s a balance of instrumentally dense boss anthems (the best of them is “Run Run Run”) and soft, settled R&B cuts. “You Don’t Know” has the same melancholy feel of Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down.” “Cruisin” is reminiscent of my teen years when I’d cruise the Van Wyck in my Civic aimlessly, thinking about dumb young men.
You can tell that she’s going for teachable moments, and wants people to listen to her lyrics and think of praise emojis. “You want loyalty? You want something that you’re not willing to be,” she sings. Stop singing our lives. She told Rolling Stone, “I thought I was a woman when I was 30. But I’ve learned and I love the process. It’s about making decisions for yourself and learning the difference between having a maintenance man—the one who services your needs at the moment —and having a partner. Your needs compared to your wants is big, because you don’t know what you need until you grow up.”
Even if you never play Woman straight through, some tracks are worth keeping around—“Cruisin” and “Fool’s Gold” will be added to my future Spotify playlist, “Thinking Thoughts” (a chill playlist for thinking thoughts). One subtle touch here is the occasional static reverb that gives certain songs more vintage drama, including “Say Thank You,” where Scott sings: “I used to be stuck...I used to be stuck...How ’bout you?” She sounds exactly like your conscience, but with a way better voice.
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