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Solo R&B debut just OK

cd:Jaguar Wright
Denials Delusions and Decisions
OkayPlayer/MCA Records

Just a few years ago, I used to see Jaguar Wright, Jill Scott, the Jazzyfatnastees and others do their weekly “Black Lily Jam Sessions” at the now-defunct Wetlands in New York City. It was part open mic, with preference given to females (hence the name), and part resident jam sessions. The bonus was the event’s connection to the Roots, the Philly-based super hip-hop band. Members of the Roots would just happen to stop by and do some freestyles, along with any other soulful hip-hop/R&B stars who just happened to be in the neighborhood.

It was just a matter of time before these female vocalists would get to do their own major projects. So following the footsteps of her peers, it’s now Jaguar’s turn, and just like the Jazzyfatnastees’ Once and Future and Scott’s Who Is Jill Scott?, Denials Delusions and Decisions is a solid modern take on old-school soul formulas. But there are a few missteps, and as a whole, this is nothing really groundbreaking.

More so than the aforementioned albums, Jaguar chooses to base her musical style heavily on the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s, with references to such legends as Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack. Besides using similar sounds such as Rhodes keys, the rimshot, and lush strings, Jaguar is also a throwback in her conceptions of love. Like many of her “neo-soul” counterparts, Jaguar started off doing mostly spoken word pieces with musical accompaniment, and eventually grew into full-fledged songwriting and singing. So it comes as no surprise that she chooses her lyrics carefully. Still, one can’t help feeling that this has all been done before.

Of course, the album wouldn’t be complete without guest appearances from the Roots family (and extended family), and they’re certainly more than “guests” on this record. Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson plays drums on nearly every track, Scott Storch plays keys, Hub plays bass, Black Thought rhymes on a couple tracks, and they all produce or co-produce in some capacity, along with Bilal, Vikter Duplaix, James Poyser, et al. Sorry if I missed anybody, but the list is so huge you wonder if this is actually a Jaguar record or if she’s the guest here.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this conglomeration of musicians, but sometimes it feels like it’s almost too much to have so many at disposal. Denials Delusions and Decisions isn’t always what one would expect from this group, and it’s actually quite diverse in musical taste, at least given their hip-hop/R&B grounding. “Lineage,” for example, is reminiscent of ’80s pop, while “Country Song” has a bit of a bluesy shuffle. “Ain’t No Playin'” is perhaps the most unexpected track – it becomes a jiggy beat track with some Destiny’s Child-style crooning over the top with Black Thought laying down a somewhat uninspired verse. “2 Too Many” and “Same Shit Different Day Pt. 1” have some average new-school funk, while “I Can’t Wait” features Bilal sounding like D’Angelo.

The influence that D’Angelo has had on this “neo-soul” movement is also apparent on “I Don’t Know,” another track featuring Black Thought. It might sound familiar because ?uestlove played on almost all of D’Angelo’s seminal Voodoo album, as well as on this jam, giving it a similar rhythmic feel. The closing track, “Same Shit Different Day Pt. 2,” has Jaguar using her considerable vocal abilities to her advantage, and giving an emotional end to a strong debut record.

Though Denials Delusions and Decisions has some bumpin’ cuts that make you wanna bounce, and the production level is surely higher than your average debut album in this genre, there is still something missing. It’s difficult to say exactly what that magic is that makes some records simply shine compared to others, but it’s safe to say that this album doesn’t have it. This is not to discredit the songs, which are well-written overall, but can Jaguar’s work stand out from the gamut of positively chilled-out female R&B vocalists these days? Questionable. But if you are totally enchanted by musical stylings of such artists as the Roots, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, and can’t get enough of it, then this could be a worthy addition.