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Jill Scott 

Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds, Vol. 2 (Epic)

One of the significant accomplishments of '90s neosoul was the space it carved out for a new generation of sensitive-yet-sensible sisters; their take-no-mess attitudes, poetic platitudes, and positive affirmations were set to warm, upscale R&B appropriate for the bookstore or the bedroom. As India.Arie proved, such artists are always one misstep away from becoming Oprah set to music, but few balanced things better than Jill Scott, and her third album is at times a beacon to a whole retro R&B movement that's lost its way.

Recorded with her standby crew of Philly Soulquarians, Beautifully Human is beautifully understated, yet beneath the clouds of electric piano and the elegantly funky pulse is the stern backbone of classic songwriting absent from the work of so many of her peers. You can forgive Scott's lapses into New Age gobbledygook ("You must nurture me, please") and excessive sentiment ("Family Reunion," potato salad and all) in exchange for the many gorgeous tunes here, the best of which -- "Golden" and "The Fact Is (I Need You)" -- summon not only the sound but the glory of '70s soul, in their celebrations of life and love. This is keeping it real, for real: being unafraid to face beauty, not just the exigencies of fate, head-on.

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