First things first. (And let's not kid ourselves) Hil St. Soul IS Hilary Mwelwa. The most dominant presence in terms of the sight and sound is Hilary in all the CD photos and her crazysexycool voice right up front in the mix. If Sade wasn't so cooly detached and Jill Scott finally released her sophomore follow-up and Anita Baker got back in the studio, it would sound a lot like Copasetik & Cool.
A lesser singer could really louse up a slow jam supreme like The Isley Brothers classic "For the Love of You," but not only do Mwelwa and her primary collaborator/producer Victor Redwood Sawyer do a faithful note-for-note rendition, I'd bet Ronald Isley himself would be impressed how well Mwelwa pours her soul into the song.
I was having a really bad day when Copasetik & Cool arrived in the mail. I don't trust bands with logos or mottos. Hil St. Soul doesn't have a logo, but on the back of the album there's an announcement that reads, "Led by neo-soul diva extraordinaire Hilary Mwelwa, Hil St. Soul delivers irresistible songs with positive messages about life and love." Yeah, sure. The only reason I was even hip to Hil St. Soul was Hilary had done an interview for The Tavis Smiley Show on National Public Radio. The song snippets I heard caught my attention. I was particularly impressed one tack from the previous Hil St. Soul album, Soul Organic with Hilary's drop-dead gorgeous take on "Until You Come Back To Me" (which is only my favorite Aretha Franklin song EVER).
It may be only April, but I sincerely doubt I will hear a better album in 2004. This is already my Album of the Year.
Every day that I listen to Copasetik & Cool I find myself liking a different song than the day before. Monday, I was nodding my head to "All That (and a Bag O' Chips). Tuesday, I'm singing loudly (and probably off-key) to the soulful "Pieces." Wednesday, the driver next to me at the red light probably thinks I'm having a fit as I dance in the car seat to the funky as hell, "Alright." As the weekend comes, and I'm looking at a paycheck that's already spent, Hilary is feeling my pain as she sings on "What's Goin' Down:"I've been working real hard putting in all the hours/Yet I'm broke and brass always strapped for cash/And my way of life is turning sour/And I can't for the life of me understand/What's goin' down.
For some time now I've had the sneaking feeling the Brits are beating we Americans at our own game of making first class soul music. Hilary Mwelwa and Hil St. Soul are part of another British Invasion by artists like Craig David, Miss Dynamite and Floetry. Mwelwa, who was born in Zambia and move to London at the age of five with her family, is a graduate of the University of Westminster with a degree in Biological Sciences, isn't just copasetik and cool, but smart too.
Mwelwa describes her band's sound as "an amalgamation of soul, R&B with hip-hop undertones, reflections of jazz, a bit of gospel, but mostly soulful."
It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but even though the hour's worth of material tails off toward the end, there wasn't one song on the album I didn't get some enjoyment and interest from. It really IS all that and a bag o' chips.
And unlike Miss Janet if you're nasty, Hilary doesn't have a weird sibling or a "costume malfunction" to call attention to herself. Hil St. Soul does it the old-fashioned way with talent, taste and no hype.