British soul rarely gets the exposure of its American counterpart, despite a history of groundbreaking acts such as Soul II Soul and Terrence Trent D’Arby. Hil St. Soul (pronounced Hil Street Soul, playing off the ’80s TV drama Hill Street Blues), a British R&B group consisting of Zambian-born vocalist Hilary Mwelwa and her musical partner Victor Redwood Sawyer, continues that tradition with Soulidified, an astonishing effort of neo-soul that grabbed me from the get-go and held my attention with exceptional vocals, great lyrics and wonderful production. This is contemporary soul as it is meant to be: funky, fun, romantic and straight from the heart.
Soulidified starts out strong with the opening salvo of “Hey Boy” and “Sweet On You,” two upbeat productions that confidently introduce the group’s warm, inviting sound. Mwelwa’s vocals are strong and commanding, and her lyrics are dense and complex, using plenty of imagery to convey her ideas. “Hey Boy” announces “Wish I had a glass of wine/ before we intertwine/ like grapes on a grape vine,” signifying the material’s playfulness but also its maturity. As on most neo-soul records, the up-tempo productions are the album’s standouts, most notably the funky “2 Good to Be True.” Mwelwa rides some chunky drums and groovy bass as she recalls a long-term relationship gone sour. The subject material is as old as the genre, but Hil St. Soul manages to stay ahead of the pack thanks to the high quality of the productions.
The musical palette is a melting pot of traditional R&B, jazz, blues and hip-hop, served up in a decidedly modern fashion. The album switches vibes from track to track, moving from the quiet jazziness of “Goodbye” to the hip-hop grooves of “Smokie Joint.” Fellow neo-soulster Dwele makes an appearance on the sexy “Baby Come Over.” Where many soul acts falter when trying to diversify their sound, Hil St. Soul easily transitions through these changes.
There is a lot of soul music out there, but this British group has a better handle on quality soul than many of its contemporaries do. Soulidified is an excellent album that should please neo-soul listeners thirsty for new talent.
Shanachie Web site