Speed Racer Looks Over His Shoulder

106 3 Rating

Just a little over two and a half months after Jill Scott released her fourth studio album, The Light of the Sun, she's back with another project, The Original Jill Scott: from the Vault, Vol. 1, which comes out in the U.S. on Aug. 30, 2011. But unlike Light of the Sun, which was released through Warner Bros. Records, The Vault is a compilation of leftover, years-old material that had been held onto by her previous label, Hidden Beach Recordings.

The ironic thing is that the older songs, on the whole, are actually superior to the newer, supposedly fresher material on Light.

Quality & Depth

Earlier in 2011, when Jill Scott and Hidden Beach reached an agreement to let her out of her contract and move over to Warner Bros., one of the stipulations was that the Beach retain the right to release some of the material Jill recorded but never released during her decade-long run on the label. And although it's not unusual for a label to put out a best-of or greatest hits package of an artist's work once they leave a label, what's unusual about The Vault is the quality and depth of the material. Each of the 11 tracks (14 on the deluxe version) are completely original recordings, and only one, the remake of the Bill Withers classic, "Lovely Day," is a remake.
Anyone expecting this to be a collection of half-finished or unremarkable tracks that should have been left unreleased is in for a pleasant surprise. The Vault is at least the equal of -- and perhaps even superior to -- her last two studio albums.

Highlights include "Running Away," a 12-minute suite that has the sound and feel of an in-studio jam session; "I Don't Know (Gotta Have You)," an ode to animal magnetism; the dancehall reggae-influenced "Love to Love;" and the aforementioned "Lovely Day," which manages to put an updated spin on the classic without having to completely reinvent it.

Talent, Charm & Creativity

The most impressive thing about The Vault is that unlike it's predecessor, The Light of the Sun, it's an album that's consistently good all the way good, from top to bottom. Hidden Beach managed to find the right mix of songs for this project and put them in the proper order. And instead of spreading herself thin creatively and being all over the map sonicly, this album sticks to what she does best: sing R&B and Soul music. There's no shoehorning of Jill's vocals into an ill-fitting music track, here: in other words, no hip-hop tracks or rap verses. In fact, there's no guest vocalists of any kind, and very little of her trademark spoken word poetry gets time to shine. It's basically just a woman and her microphone, getting it done in the recording booth.
Although these songs might technically qualify as musical leftovers, by no means do they sound old or outdated; most sound like they could have been recorded last month, or even last week. It remains to be seen if Hidden Beach still has enough leftover material for a Vault Vol. 2, but it's doubtful that if so, the quality could be as high as what's found here. So if this is to be Jill Scott's swan song for her old label, it fittingly displays all the talent, charm and creativity that helped propel her to stardom.

Disclosure: A review copy provided by Hidden Beach Recordings. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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