In the years following her sultry, spiritual, and sophisticated debut, Who Is Jill Scott? Words And Sounds Vol. 1, and its equally impressive (though not quite official) follow-up, the double-disc Experience: Jill Scott 826+, the question was no longer who is Jill Scott, but where is Jill Scott? Turns out she was simply taking some time off to enjoy life and love, and her return to the music world, Beautifully Human: Words And Sounds Vol. 2, is as laidback and luxuriant as one might expect from someone who just spent three years getting the proverbial spa treatment. Vol. 2 doesn’t just sound like the product of a well-rested woman, it sounds like she’s still kickin’ back with some shades on and a margarita in her hand.
One of Scott’s strengths is her ability to coo a soft, coquettish lullaby and then turn on a dime and belt out a powerful hook along to a funky, robust backbeat, and to do both with equal conviction and abandon, but Vol. 2 sometimes sags under the weight of its subtlety. In other words, there are far too many slow, slushy ballads—even the album’s most political song, the magnificent “My Petition,” is disguised as a retro, ‘70s love song (just imagine her singing “I wanna trust you/I wanna love you/But you lied to me repeatedly” or “Give it to me like you said you would/Oh, say can you see?” to George W. Bush).
Others’ broken promises aren’t Scott’s only target though. She takes on temptation on “Bedda At Home,” her own infidelity on “Can’t Explain (42nd Street Happenstance),” and reluctant self-sufficiency on “The Fact Is (I Need You),” an antidote to hip-hop’s pervasive, ego-driven battle-of-the-sexes: “I can kill the spider above my bed/Although it’s hard because I’m scared.” “Talk To Me,” one of the album’s stand-apart moments (of which there are too few), is divided into three distinct sections: Scott is at first “antagonist, loud and wrong” in response to her man’s ambivalence; then she tries a different, softer approach (“So I try another tactic,” she sings as the song turns smooth, jazzy, and brass-filled); and, finally, at the peak of her frustration, it breaks into full big-band mode.
At close to 70 minutes, Vol. 2 is just as long as her debut, but unlike that album, Vol. 2 isn’t tempered by interludes or Scott’s signature spoken-word pieces. Still, the album is no less poetic; while “Rasool,” a recollection of the first death she ever witnessed, borders on becoming a Public Service Announcement, the closing track is the kind of stirring affirmation that could only come from a lyricist as a gifted as Scott (“I am a whisper singing/I am unbraided freedom/I am the thought for blinking/I am a love unshattered/I am the great orgasm”). So despite the album’s jetlagged pace, any one of Scott’s neo-soul contemporaries would benefit greatly from just one song as well written as the 15 tracks here.