Black Rose

Hil St. Soul

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Black Rose Review

by Andy Kellman

The reduced role of multi-instrumentalist, producer, and songwriter Victor Redwood Sawyerr that marked the third Hil St. Soul album continues on the fourth, Black Rose. But again, the mixture of other collaborators does not provide much of a change from the Hil St. Soul m.o. established on Soul Organic and Copasetik & Cool. With songs like "Wash Away" (put together with Fidel and Shae) and "Gravity" (co-written with Harmony), which could function as surrogate Faith Evans or Mary J. Blige songs, it remains a shame that Hilary Mwelwa is on a small-budget label and strictly compartmentalized into "grown folks R&B," with little chance of anyone under the age of 30 being exposed to her. Then again, with purposely flash-less songs like the nostalgic "Sweetest Days" ("There was no Nintendo or computer games but a natural interaction with your friends") and the motherly "Don't Forget the Ghetto" ("What is a dollar if you got no sense?"), it's clear that her character is more in line with the relatively mature crowd. With all the expected laid-back arrangements, it would be easy to miss the sly pointedness of the album's central and title track, an understated anthem where Mwelwa also takes a clear swipe at the suspicious rise in popularity of a specific singer and the corresponding lack of recognition for others who are equally (if not more) talented: "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." The album, as a whole, offers more in the way of subtle stimulation than dry featurelessness (there is some of that), and it's one of the best yet that Mwelwa, Sawyerr, and company have offered.

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