JILL SCOTT, BEAUTIFULLY HUMAN: WORDS AND SOUNDS VOL. 2 (HIDDEN BEACH RECORDINGS) Jill Scott took some time off after her successful debut album, Who is Jill Scott?, to reflect on fame and settle into married life. Always an introspective lyricist, Scott turns increasingly inward on her long-awaited and satisfying sophomore album. Beautifully Human finds Scott delivering her trademark poetic narratives over slinky, subdued tracks rich with jazzy accents and retro-sounding production. These hushed orchestrations bring Scott's lyrics to the forefront.
On Golden, she celebrates herself _ flaws and all _ sending a message of empowerment over a repeated, 1970s-like groove. Scott traffics in uplifting, empowering messages, but her songs are hardly treacly and never preachy. The Fact Is (I Need You) best articulates Scott's philosophy; the song, addressed to fathers specifically, extols the necessity of attentive fathers but also upholds the virtues of independent women. There's a difference between needing men and depending on them, Scott posits.
Musical highlights include the pounding Bedda at Home, with hefty doses of brass and sass. Family Reunion features swirling keyboards, wistful and nostalgia-inducing as Scott shares the eccentricities of a family gathering. And My Petition finds Scott getting political: she addresses political grievances as if talking to a lover ("how do I have faith in you?/ when you just don't come through") while cleverly employing lyrical and melodic fragments from the National Anthem. A-
_ BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent
GLENN TILBROOK, TRANSATLANTIC PING PONG (QUIXOTIC/COMPASS) By the time songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook put Squeeze on indefinite hiatus five years ago, the band had spent most of the previous decade toiling away in undeserved obscurity.
Still treasure your worn-out copies of Cool for Cats and East Side Story?
Squeeze's latter-day albums Frank, Play, Some Fantastic Place and Ridiculous languish in used-CD bins everywhere, awaiting your discovery.
Can't find those discs? Then pick up Tilbrook's engaging new album, Transatlantic Ping Pong. While Tilbrook's and Difford's respective solo debuts saw them taking their music in new directions, much of Transatlantic Ping Pong sounds like Squeeze picking up where it left off.
The result feels like the return of an old friend. Tilbrook is in great voice, and his pure-pop instincts are as sharp as ever on infectious tunes such as Untouchable and Neptune. He more than holds his own in the lyrics department too, drawing inspiration from Difford's wry take on relationships in all those Squeeze songs.
"You are obviously fraught/ I've said all that I can say/ Now the ball is in your court/ Whack it back or walk away," he sings on Untouchable.
The results sound pretty nifty even when the words are short of inspiring.
"Happy?/ You say so/ I would guess not though," starts the lurching chorus to Hostage. But marry the lyrics to a simple melodic hook and they seem to float off Tilbrook's tongue.
Not everything on Transatlantic Ping Pong works quite as well. But you barely notice the occasional stumble when you have highlights like Tilbrook's cheeky cover of the Cornell Hurd Band's The Genitalia of a Fool (done in the style of a country weeper, in case you were wondering). Happy? I'd say so. B+
_ LOUIS HAU, Times staff writer
TIFT MERRITT, TAMBOURINE (LOST HIGHWAY) When most men (and many women) first see and hear Tift Merritt, they have to resist the urge to quit their day jobs and join her traveling cult.
She's even prettier than her pretty-boy benefactor, Ryan Adams. She has an even prettier and more plangent voice than his, too. And _ so far, at least _ she has avoided the oh-so-serious alt-country pretensions that weigh down the recent work of self-appointed curators of the genre such as Adams and Lucinda Williams.
Instead, Merritt's songwriting and delivery have a seemingly effortless directness. Tambourine, Merritt's second major-label effort, isn't as musically and emotionally consistent as 2002's terrific Bramble Rose, but it's a punchier, more diverse record that allows Merritt to show her range. Several songs travel to the sultry country-soul intersection that Shelby Lynne has made home. On a couple of the sparer, more traditional songs, Merritt's vocals will rip your heart out with their bare hands as easily as Emmylou ever did. Merritt never sounds quite as pitiful as, say, Kelly Willis, but she does leave listeners wondering how such a sad, world-weary voice could emanate from such an innocent-looking mouth.
When she finally lets loose with a stop-making-sense stomper like I Am Your Tambourine, well, that's one tambourine you'll have a hankering to shake all night long.
And in the jingle-jangle morning, you might decide to call in sick and go following her. A-
_ ROBERT FRIEDMAN, Times staff writer