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Following Her Act

[whitespace] E.C Scott hitches R&B to churchified blues on steamy 'Hard Act to Follow' album

By Nicky Baxter

If you've ever had the opportunity to catch R&B singer E.C. Scott's act, you know that the woman can sing up a swarm of comparisons while eluding any one of them. Scott's voice is elastic enough to stretch into a number of genres: R&B, classic Duke-era blues and gospel.

On her second Blind Pig recording, Hard Act to Follow, Scott makes good on the promise hinted at on her debut, Come and Get Your Love. The record ought to win her fans far beyond the bounds of her Bay Area queendom.

Happily, Scott has dispensed with a rather clumsy effort to impress the New Jack generation with hopped-up booming backbeats, concentrating instead on what she does best, hitching R&B to churchified blues.

Though she is an accomplished songwriter--all but one of the new album's tracks were written or co-written by E.C.--she is arguably an even better interpreter of other folks' material. Her rendition of the Eurythmic's "Missionary Man" starts out with the gospel fervor of a minister scolding a backsliding congregation and winds up as steamy as a couple getting all hot and bothered between the sheets.

Smoke-Stomp Lightning

With her longtime band, Smoke, supplying the instrumental fire, Scott sashays through a funked-up clutch of ditties that zero in on the ups and downs of lust and love. As this is the postfeminist era, Scott's women usually wind up on top.

Hard Act to Follow commences with a stomping "Steppin' Out on a Saturday Night." Scott is loose and gregarious, ready to shake it on down til dawn. The rhythm section packs a serious wallop, while the horns blow punchy Windy City riffs. Guitarist Early Times' resourceful solo punctuates this house party. Scott's vocal is effervescent. E.C.'s not a shouter; she's much too sophisticated for all that noise.

"Queensized Bed" and "Men Gossip Too" both have Scott written all over them. The former, a midtempo number, finds Scott scouring the wide world for a man capable of supplying lots of tender loving care, and she is anything but timid about spelling out what's on her mind: "Now baby, don't be shy / E.C. and this bed is going to be your best friend / I gotta see what I can find / I need some royalty by my side / I'm looking for a king for my queen-sized bed." Behind her, Smoke curls around the lusty narrative with a cushion of understated blue funk.

"Lyin' and Cheatin'" is a slow-burning diss against an unfaithful beau. The number is booted into gear by Early Times' snarling guitar; when Scott enters, she is obviously fed up with her man's rigmarole. Early Times peels off a blue streak when comes his turn to solo; meanwhile the rest of the band does a version of a striptease bump and grind.

Although she comes across like a bad mamajama, E.C. Scott does have a vulnerable side, as revealed on "Don't Touch Me" and "Sweet Man of Mine." On the former, she is brimming with bravado on the surface, yet she can only hope the lover she wants to leave keeps his hands to himself or "the door will be the last thing [she] find[s]." In the end, the singer can't resist one final close encounter with her wayward paramour.

On "Sweet Man of Mine," Scott evinces a keen sense of dynamics. Here she is straight-up romantic, gently coaxed along by David Halliday's 1950s-styled braying, which is doubled by Early Times' minor-key chording.

"Another Night in Paradise" is perhaps the most lascivious number. While Vince Lars does his best King Curtis routine, Scott borrows from girlhood hero Mavis Staple. Although her head is in the clouds Scott's lyrics are as earthy as they come: "Oh, how I yearn to have you near / You make me scream at a pitch only dogs can hear."

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Web extra to the March 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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