(5 / 5)
Who is Judith Hill some may well ask. But after a few minutes of this glorious album, trust me when I say, her background is irrelevant. This is ground zero in her own right.
Yes, she has sparkling associations with such legends as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, George Benson and Rod Stewart as a vocalist extraordinaire, but this solo album showcases not only her stunningly soulful vocals, but the focus is also on Judith as a force to be reckoned with as a songwriter.
She could have had her pick of top-drawer songwriters and collaborators to craft material for her incredible voice, and/or co-penned the songs with famous names; both artists and songwriters. But she wrote 12 of the 13 tracks here on her own, and co-wrote one cut with three other writers.
One of the finest female vocal albums for many a decade for my ears. Nods to Aretha, to Gladys and to vintage Chaka Khan and the raucous funkiness of her Rufus days. Ms. Hill is THAT good to be likened to these Queens.
This third studio album has raised the bar so high and will be a real hard act to follow for her next one! It’s a perfect blend of soul and neo-soul, r&b, jazz, funk and more.
So…..Judith Hill was born in Hollywood, California 37 years ago to a Japanese mother and African-American father, both musicians (Dad plays bass and Mum plays keyboards) and in Judith’s band for touring and recording.
Judith graduated in 2007 with a degree in music composition, she then moved to France to with local superstar Michel Polnareff, before a return to the US at the request of Michael Jackson. He chose Judith to duet with him on the ill-fated “This Is It” tour. They rehearsed their spot together for months before the tour was scrapped when Michael died.
Judith did perform as a featured singer on releases by George Benson and Rod Stewart and she toured with Stevie Wonder and Elton John as a backing singer. She toured as support to John Legend and Josh Groban too. She won a Grammy for her contribution to the brilliant film, “20 Feet from Stardom”, and several of her songs were used for the 2012 Spike Lee film, “Red Hook Summer”.
Despite all of her success and association with many musical legends, Judith was a contestant on the US version of The Voice in 2013, and was then contacted by Prince who wanted to co-produce her album, “Back In Time”, at his famous Paisley Park studios.
Judith sings on the track “Here Comes The End” by Gerard way, which is on the soundtrack to the Netflix series “The Umbrella Academy”. In January this year (2021), she took part in the star-studded “A David Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day”, on which she performed “Lady Stardust” and “Under Pressure”.
But her new solo album must surely elevate her career a few rungs up the ladder in her own right, it is that good….
It channels Prince beautifully on the funkier cuts such as track five,”You Got The Right Thing”, which is utterly brilliant. Bet this raises the roof live.
The opener “When My World Is Blue” kicks things off with gentle piano and under-stated strings, before Judith’s breathtaking vocal; a ballad that could fit any blockbuster movie soundtrack. A wonderful piece of songwriting, which one could imagine Stevie Wonder having penned.
The title track rocks out with some fierce electric guitar, with Judith on an almost Tina Turner-Ike and Tina Revue era tip.Great stuff. “Americana” harks back to 1970s ‘Blaxploitation’-style movie soundtrack mode, with a dark and moody cut.
Mary J Blige meets Prince territory perhaps with the slow burner “God Bless The Mechanic”, before the sassy blues number and the sole co-write of the set, “Burn It All”, where Ms Hill sizzles and taps into the back of the throat growl so nicely. Things slow down with the super ballad, “Give Your Love To Someone Else”, which sits on a Lennon/Imagine style piano vibe. Spine tingling vocal.
“Silence” channels Nina Simone on the smoky jazz-tinged, string-soaked gentle number. “Wanderer” is the only track that didn’t work for me and went on a bit too long. But the next one, “Miss Cecilia Jones”, is a winner. Such fun, infectious hook and a very clever arrangement. Vocally she makes it so effortless, and there’s parts of her vocal phrasing and rasp that remind me of the great Gladys Knight.
Full of attitude on the raunchy r&b cut, “Newborn Woman”, before the penultimate track, the very neat job of the Prince-like/Sylvester-like, disco funkster “Step Out”.
For me, the standout moment of this fabulous set is the final track, “Candlelight In The Dark”, which sets Judith apart from many other female singer/songwriters. It’s an incredible piece of work and I’d imagine this song will spawn many covers in the future by other artists.
On this perfect emotion-drenched ballad, Judith sounds so natural and so comfortable in her own skin as an artist. That’s the thing; she’s not just a great singer, she’s an artist. She should be a megastar with her voice alone, but as a songwriter and producer here too, she’s the bomb.
Her versatile vocal skills on this final cut, are as close to the Queen of Soul, Ms Aretha Franklin as any female singer alive today. Seriously. The song reminds me of the kind of stuff our very own Beverly Knight would love to get hold of.
I’d say this one track; the song and the vocal, are worth the admission price alone! But these 13 tracks as a set deliver 57 minutes and 12 seconds of sheer ‘Wow’ moments. Just amazing….
By Chris Benjamin
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’