R&B Diva Jill Scott Doesn’t Settle for Less

Anyone unfamiliar with Jill Scott’s earlier work might have been surprised last week at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles when the singer-songwriter-actress pulled out all the stops on “The Real Thing,” the title track from her third studio album released in 2007. The song, played at almost ear-splitting volume by a 10-piece backing band, mixed rap, R&B and heavy metal in equal doses, with the lead guitarist even referencing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” at one point.

It might’ve been the most eclectic, and bombastic, tune of the set, but the night’s overall message was uniform: “You gotta do right by me / It’s mandatory, baby.”

Scott is all about empowerment and not settling for less. In other words, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly and won’t hesitate to show the door to those under-achieving, good-time Charlie’s of the world if they don’t get their act together. It’s an attitude best epitomized on her new album by “Closure,” which she sang a cappela prior to the band joining, just in case listeners didn’t get the drift. “Don’t be expecting no breakfast in the morning, baby / You got all you gon’ get; this is it, this is closure.”

When the notion was posed that her music might sound a tad emasculating to certain male members of the audience, Scott begged to differ. “It’s a story for the sake of entertainment,” she explained to Variety over the phone. “If you’re just a good-time Charlie, and you’re comfortable with it, then it’s no big deal. It’s not my concern. But if that man or that woman is like, ‘You know what? I’ve had enough. This was fun, but I really would like to have a relationship or a love that makes my heart feel special and wonderful’…  I’m not judgmental, I’m an observationist.”

Scott’s intoxicating blend of silky R&B, torch ballads, rousing blues and a singing style that can range from spoken word to belting diva has been consistent from the beginning. If anything, her latest LP, “Woman” — which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart in early August — likely would have received much stronger reviews if it hadn’t been preceded by her acclaimed debut, “Who Is Jill Scott?” (2000), which earned her four Grammy nominations, or her last studio recording, the beguiling “The Light of the Sun” (2011).

“While it doesn’t move mountains, this album is a reminder evolution doesn’t always mean transformation,” stated Boombox.com about “Woman”; while Pitchfork offered: “(Scott’s) sense of humor and sensuality, fine-tuned, endearing and bold, is infused throughout this album, but it doesn’t feel like enough…”

If the recording wasn’t as much of a departure from previous works as many tastemakers would have liked — especially by an artist who tends to release new studio works roughly every four years — “Woman” is grounded in rock-solid craftsmanship and the honesty of a performer who likes getting things off her chest.

“The central concept for the new album, I would say, is a lot of journaling,” Scott explained. “It’s growing up music. It’s take a look at yourself music. It’s be honest about who you are music. And it’s music for everybody.”

She embraces her eclecticism like a badge of honor. As she told Rolling Stone recently: “I consider myself a storyteller. So often people define me as, ‘You’re an R&B singer,’ instead of, ‘You do jazz, blues, classical, funk, country, everything.’”

“Lighthouse,” from the new album, produced by Andrew “Pop” Wansel — who’s worked with Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, among others — is thick in atmosphere: a slow burner that employs synthesizers, vocal layering, drum machines and a sample of “Ready Set Loop” as performed by SBTRKT. If the track recalls those initial comparisons that Scott drew to Erykah Badu, it stands tall on its own. Another track, “Fool’s Gold,” released as the album’s first single in May, is as inventive as anything that’s riding high on the R&B/hip-hop charts, including one of the year’s most acclaimed efforts, Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

Scott, whose summer tour ends in Phoenix on Friday, calls her live show “Bette Midler meets (fellow Philadelphia native) Frankie Beverly, “so there’s some comedy and there’s some touching moments and there’s some sensuality and racy moments, and there’s real talk. And lots and lots of music.”

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