Music » Critics' Picks

Jill Scott

Monday, Aug. 6; Pageant

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Just as Erykah Badu is often unfairly compared to Billie Holiday, we're surprised Jill Scott isn't hailed as the R&B version of Sarah Vaughan. Scott's voice isn't exactly like that of the late, great jazz diva, but she does share a certain ease of delivery, a rhythmic invention that plays with the beats established by the drums. If the word "flow" hadn't been overused in describing rappers over the last dozen years, it would be the most appropriate choice to nail down what Scott does as a singer. She sings with a confident melodic playfulness but never resorts to Star Search-inspired fits of vocal hysteria. She concentrates on the lyrics, attending to each song's emotional subtleties. In this regard, her background as a performance poet is obvious.Although her lyrics sometimes suffer from fuzzy imagery and lack of detail, Scott shows real signs of developing into an excellent songwriter. Check out "A Long Walk," in which she giddily describes the possibilities of conversation with her man, or try "Love Rain," which starts with a clichéd metaphor for passion and soon becomes an emotional downpour.

Thanks to these gifts, Scott has quickly become the leading figure in a rapidly growing pack of young female R&B singer/songwriters. Her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott?, was one of last year's most successful records and continues to hold strong in the charts at a time when the record industry has been sorely hurting for hits. The production is handled by various members of a Touch of Jazz Productions, led by none other than "Jazzy Jeff" Townes, former partner of the Fresh Prince (now better known as Will Smith). This talented crew provides the perfect backdrop for Scott's magisterial vocal presence.

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