Today is one of those albums that is historically noted as one of the greatest albums of all time, yet it is one I have never really warmed up to, at least before this experience. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill, the vocalist who emerged on the scene with the Fugees. On several occasions, my son has presented one song or another from this record for my consideration, but not being a R&B connoisseur, I never gave it much consideration. On my list as the #10 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I had to make sure this one got my full attention.
I will say that giving this album a full and extended consideration, as well as hearing it in the sequential context of all else that I have heard in the world of R&B, hip-hop, soul, funk and reggae have helped me to fully appreciate this record. This genre will never be my #1 favorite, but true to form, I tend to like the subtle and subdued over the overwrought riffing, of which there is very little on this album. The production on this record, led by Hill, as well as the songwriting which she also handled, is phenomenal. She was well-connected across the music industry at this early point in her career, and her talent and skill, along with the collective gifts of many others, created a very well thought out release.
Framed around an ongoing theme of a school-room atmosphere, Hill delivers a wide variety of sound and style, accentuating the many influences I noted previously. I may not love this album quite as much as my son or the general public (to include Rolling Stone), but there are several high points I will focus on here.
“In Zion” is one of two songs that really reminds me of vintage Stevie Wonder, and features some perfectly inserted flamenco guitar from Carlos Santana. Hill does a great job of pulling influences from across the spectrum, and she lyrically channels “Light My Fire” by the Doors for “Doo Wop (That Thing)”. “Final Hour” atmospherically reminds me of “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, and like many songs, the bass lines on this album are great. One of my favorites is “When It Hurts So Bad”.
My absolute favorite original track on the record is “Every Ghetto, Every City” which absolutely pulls from “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder. It is the funkiest groove on the album, and a real standout track for me. The other treasure is a “hidden track” at the end of the album, her take on the 1967 classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”. The original, performed by Frankie Valli, has oddly become a crowd sing-along at UCF football games, and I love the depth and soul of Hill’s version. A good song is a good song, and I love hearing alternative takes on classics from our past.
I truly appreciate my own personal education that came from focusing on this highly regarded album, and like most other times, I know my musical awareness is better for taking the time to learn and appreciate a record I wouldn’t have otherwise likely spent much time on.