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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The pop airwaves are full of R&B divas and it's hard for the uninitiated to sort them out.

Our music critic, Robert Christgau, tells us about one who's worth some attention.

(Soundbite of song "Hate on Me")

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Never doubt Mary J. Blige's soul, Macy Gray's voice or Beyonce's ambition. But above all, be sure of this, in the sometimes bewildering plethora of R&B heroines, the solidity of Philadelphia's Jill Scott remains unmatched.

(Soundbite of song "Hate on Me")

Ms. JILL SCOTT (R&B Singer and Songwriter): (Singing) If I could give you the world on a silver platter, would it even matter? You'd still be mad at me. If I could find in all this a dozen roses, which I would give to you, you'd still be miserable. In reality, I'm going to be who I be. And I don't feel no faults for all the lies that you bought.

CHRISTGAU: That's "Hate on Me," and a typically aggressive track from "The Real Thing," Jill Scott's third solo album and first in three years. Scott did put out a duets album called "Collaborations" in January, where she siphoned off her strong interests in hip-hop, jazz, even gospel, half the time on songs she didn't write. That left her free to make the new one, the most purely pop record of her career. For the most part, "The Real Thing" is a murmured, whispered piece of work that at first I took for a retreat.

Certainly, it offers nothing like the declarative, tell-all domesticity of my favorite Scott lyric.

(Soundbite of song "Family Reunion")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) We at the family reunion, telling jokes and playing spades. Uncle Dave is on the barbeque grill. Grandma bragging about the blanket she made.

CHRISTGAU: That's "Family Reunion" from 2004's "Beautifully Human," a great song. But as I listened, I realized that the new album had its own kind of integrity. I remembered that I love Scott for the brains, heart and class she brings to the commonplaces of African-American culture, from hip-hop and gospel to the game of spades they're playing at that family reunion. This pop album is just another example.

The conceit and maybe the reality of "The Real Thing" is that it chronicles the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. But Scott smartens up that commonplace in a way even Beyonce could learn from.

(Soundbite of song "Celibacy Blues")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) This here, celibacy thing, Lord, just got something over me. Like an addict, I could really use a thing.

CHRISTGAU: That's track 12, "Celibacy Blues," and rest assured that it has a happy ending. Early on, the eroticism of such songs as "Epiphany" just put the average bootylicious babe to shame, and right after "Celibacy Blues," at the end of the album, Jill Scott is ready to break through to another epiphany. Alone, it might seem like pandering, and I'm sure some sobersides will think it is pandering. Coming where it does on the record, however, it's pure life force, every bit as sane and well-observed as "Family Reunion." The title is "All I," and Jill Scott puts her all into it.

(Soundbite of song "All I")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) I'm just saying what's on my mind. It's been nice, but it's time to show love what we made of. No time for games, no rules, just play. Hope you want me in the same way.

SIEGEL: Jill Scott's CD is "The Real Thing." Our critic, Robert Christgau, is a contributing editor with Rolling Stone magazine.

(Soundbite of song "All I")

Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) I can't even sleep at night. All I dream about is making love.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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