11:03pm

Sun June 12, 2011
First Listen

First Listen: Jill Scott, 'The Light of the Sun'

"I gotta do what I gotta do, son," Jill Scott says on "Le BOOM Vent Suite," a third of the way through her fourth studio album. "Grown woman making decisions and choices." It's not like she ever really had a frivolous phase, but on The Light of the Sun Scott sounds particularly whole, composed. She is powerful, and she is fighting the good fight.

Scott has come a long way from being The Roots' hook girl (can you imagine a time when she rode the bus on the Thongs Fall Apart tour just to come out and sing the chorus she wrote for Erykah Badu to sing on "You Got Me?" And people were kind of bummed out when she hit the stage? Until they heard her sing.) She began in Philadelphia as a spoken word artist, and on this album she incorporates that work into her songs cleverly. When she finds an opening to leaven her singing with speech, or to blues a phrase, she goes for it. But within reason and to an end.

The end might be an offering to women when they're feeling bruised, disappointed. She's publicly taken a few punches herself in recent years--a divorce, followed by a short relationship that left her a single parent. "God, please hear my call. I am afraid for me," she sings on "Hear My Call." "Love has burned me raw. I need your healing." On that song she's backed by swelling strings, tender piano. She says please over and over, with a different inflection every time. Despite the pleading, there isn't anything ragged in her voice.

Her words are not wasteful, but she does not sound like the type to cry in public. She is honest and heartfelt but she is a better version of a regular woman. I've seen a sold out arena crowd hang on her every word and shout encouragement from the cheap seats. She feels close enough to us that we can sing with her, but we still look up to her.

After all, this is the woman who can turn a Doug E Fresh beatbox and a touch of ragtime piano into the bottom of a breezy kissoff song ("All Cried Out (Redux)") on which she sounds more free and brazen than she has in years. This is also the woman who calls herself a "motherf---ing G" on a spoken word track called "Womanifesto" and destroys all doubt that she's anything less.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.