Hil St. Soul - Black Rose (2008)

Hil St. Soul
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Sweet, stirring, regal and rich---for true soul music lovers, it rarely gets more succulent than Victor Redwood Sawyerr and Hilary Mwelwa, performers better known as Hil St. Soul.  Ever since their 2000 debut CD, Soul Organic, this London duo has captivated listeners with soothing, yet sophisticated tracks about all facets of love and life. Fans still reeling from their heady 2006 compilation, SOULidified, may find their fourth CD, Black Rose, a bit more political and pragmatic in its approach, but it still, for the most part, goes down smooth.

Sweet, stirring, regal and rich---for true soul music lovers, it rarely gets more succulent than Victor Redwood Sawyerr and Hilary Mwelwa, performers better known as Hil St. Soul.  Ever since their 2000 debut CD, Soul Organic, this London duo has captivated listeners with soothing, yet sophisticated tracks about all facets of love and life. Fans still reeling from their heady 2006 compilation, SOULidified, may find their fourth CD, Black Rose, a bit more political and pragmatic in its approach, but it still, for the most part, goes down smooth.

If you're a casual fan who knows them best by their silky soul grooves like "Hey Boy,"  "What's Goin' Down" and "Pieces," then the first few tracks may throw you; a hip-hop touch abounds in the opener, "Wash Away,"  sampling Sister Nancy as Ms. Mwelwa puts a philosophical spin on the ups and downs of life. And for those who've raised their tax bracket and acquired a serious case of saddity, her tone is warm, yet cautionary in "Don't Forget the Ghetto." An unexpected commentary arrives in the title track, as the double entendre lyrics speak to self-pride and, well, how blue-eyed soul makers are given more props than those of a darker hue: "Don't get it twisted, 'cause I gotta speak my mind/I'm not trying to split hairs, but I gotta bee in my bonnet/English rose singing soul music, they get praised for it/A black rose singing soul music gets no love for it." One doesn't have to think too long to guess who they might be referring to **cough, cough, Amy Winehouse**.

Not that Hil St. Soul remains too socially-conscious or strident to get down: "We Were In Love" is a mature, methodical approach to a fractured relationship, and "Broken Again" follows a woman through  the painful, yet cathartic process of mending a broken heart. Ms. Mwela's sass returns in fine for though, for the deceptively upbeat  "If I Were You," where she advises a battered girlfriend to escape her abuser, or else: "I'd pack my bags, leave his a**, take a chance, play the wild card," she says of how to handle a man "who talks with his fists." Damn.

Is Black Rose as fluid in motion as SOULidified, or as textured as Copasetik & Cool ? No. But is it worth time, hard-earned money and with the capacity of endearing itself to their loyal legion of fans? Sho' you right.

By Melody Charles

 
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