BY DREW LACOUTURE
The past several years have been quite blissful for Los Angela’s Judith Hill. She was a back-up singer for some of music’s biggest acts, won a Grammy for her performance in the documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” and competed on NBC’s “The Voice.” Music of her own was bound to be added to her resume and the soul singer delivers an electrifying and nostalgia filled debut.
“Back in Time” was not only recorded through Prince’s label NPG, but also was produced by Prince himself and the pop icon also appears vocally and instrumentally on several tracks. He and Hill have crafted an engaging album that borrows elements of jazz, funk and soul.
Hill herself is quite an artist, not only brining a consistent and powerful voice but also playing piano and co-writing the album. Her singing on each track is very raw and it is clear she has great vocal control and range.
This is most prominent on the single “Cry, Cry, Cry.” What makes this track so great besides the production and the message of not giving up, are Hill’s passionate but not overdone performance.
Prince’s production and the back-up band also have a great presence here, making the album balanced. The drums are nice and crisp and while pretty stagnant, the drummer gets the job done. The horns, saxophones and bass deserve credit for not only giving the album an old-school funk vibe but also make this album feel alive and ready to be heard live.
“Jammin’ in the Basement” could have used some bongos during the chorus, but the saxophone and trumpet solos really were genius in making this track seem as if it came out of a jam session.
“Angel in the Dark” is the most modern sounding track here and is one that might take a couple of listens to appreciate. There is a clear Janelle Monae influence on this track.
While not the most dynamic soul record, Hill covers a decent array of topics for a debut. The groovy opener “As Trains Go By” talks about racial tensions in a very approachable but meaningful way. The funky “My People” sounds like 1970’s Stevie Wonder in the best ways possible and has Hill talking about her badass crew.
The two major love songs “Cure” and “Love Trip” are gorgeous and Hill’s inflections perfectly emulate the styles of both tracks. “Cure” has a strong Motown influence and “Love Trip” is the same for swing music
With all of these positives, the album does raise some eyebrows at certain points. One thing that is frustrating are the order of the tracks. Almost every two tracks are two that sound most alike to each other.
The closer album titled track, “Back in Time” is the most experimental Hill and Prince get on the album and while the instrumental is decent, Hill unfortunately gets lost in the big production and actually ends the album on a bittersweet note
Lastly, hearing Hill say “turn up” and “ratchet” on tracks breaks that nostalgic feeling that the album is trying to capture and honestly sounds corny.
With the list of flaws being relatively small, “Back in Time” is a splendid R&B debut. Prince made the right decision working with Judith Hill and vice versa because she has a lot of talent and Prince does a great job bringing these talents out.
It is a fun album that does a good job of taking elements of older music and repackaging them for 2015 while being an album that is great for all ages and will have most people snapping their fingers at the least.
The Flyer gives “Back in Time” by Judith Hill an 8/10.