“Hilary Scott once possessed a Columbia zip code. Many miles and several moves later, she now resides in her native Washington State. Wherever she lays her head, Scott sounds most at home in the middle of a richly crafted pop song, as she proves once again on her latest, “Don’t Call Me Angel,” which releases Friday.
The more comfortable Scott grows in her creative skin, the greater her willingness to subtly subvert expectations and drill beneath the surface of a lovely, or lovesick, song to reveal its complicated layers.
The 11 songs here, produced by Scott and Johnny Lee Schell and fleshed out by a strong stable of musicians, never settle or remain static. Even the most accessible ballad contains a moment of lyrical nuance or pure emotion that surprises, upping the stakes and shifting the ground beneath listeners’ feet.
This musical malleability only works because of Scott’s expressive voice. At times, she sings soft like a flickering flame (“Make It Right”); at others, her voice is a torch, burning hot and bright (“Not Used to Being Used To”).
The record kicks off with its title track, its lyric in many ways encapsulating the soul of Scott’s music. Addressing a love, she pleads to be remembered for who she really is, and not painted over by romantic sentiment:
“Don’t call me angel, I never looked good in white / I’m only human, since I was a child / I could never be your savior, just a thief doing time / So don’t call me angel when we say goodbye.”
The mournful sweetness of the song comes through in Scott’s reading of it, and the mandolin which lingers like a haunting presence.
From there, a song like “Used to Being Used To” sets the tone for much of what’s to come, adult-contemporary melodies a la Sheryl Crow or Sarah McLachlan dressed in the lighter side of the blues. Scott and Co. never fail to find a gentle, sultry groove to set their songs in.
An early highlight, “You Will Be Mine” features one of Scott’s strongest lyrics and a prime example of her ability to spin poetry from pop-music straw: “And loving me won’t be neat / It’s bound to get downright messy / But through the shrapnel of flying words / I promise your voice will be heard across the battlefield.”
“Heartless” resembles much of the tracklist — until it whirs and churns to its conclusion. “Unlove Story” does a skillful dance, Scott’s melody moving with and around the shimmying beat, her lyrics weaving between the desire for a meet-cute and something more melancholy and substantial. The silky bridge of “Moon and Back” distinguishes and commends that song.
Late in the set, Scott delivers a powerhouse vocal, converting a cover of Prince’s classic “Kiss” into an expression of personal and sensual confidence. The song’s energy could easily spill over into something showy, but Scott and her band find simmering restraint the most powerful statement.
Throughout, her voice guides that band — staffed by husband and percussionist A.J. Gennaro, longtime collaborator Josh Schilling, Schell (whose credits including playing on records by Bonnie Raitt and Eric Burdon) and Mike Finnigan (Raitt, David Crosby, Tracy Chapman) — with fearlessness and ease. Scott sings what she means and means what she sings, making “Don’t Call Me Angel” yet another winsome argument for her lush and lived-in sound.”