May 13, 2002 12:00 PM

Lauryn Hill (Columbia)

Album of the week

“Fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need. And I’ve just retired from the fantasy part.” So proclaims a resurrected Lauryn Hill before launching into one of the 13 new songs on this intimate two-disc collection, on which she dismisses the hip-hop beats of her hallmark 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for austere acoustic soul. Recording during the taping of last July’s MTV Unplugged concert in New York City (which premiered on MTV2 in March) the former Fugee, accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar, becomes, as she jokingly puts it, a “hip-hop folk singer.”

Folk-steeped tunes such as “I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel)”—which Hill wrote after New York City cops shot and killed an unarmed man in 1999—display a keen social awareness. In true coffeehouse style, she talks about the genesis of songs and offers other personal insight in jabbering interludes (one more than 12 minutes) that disrupt the flow of the record. That and the performance’s technical flaws—Hill’s voice sometimes cracks, and her guitar playing is not always crisp—may be somewhat off-putting. Even so, it only makes Hill more real.

Bottom Line: Hill climbs back strong

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