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R. Kelly Tries a Little Tenderness Amid Boasts

*** R. KELLY "R." Jive

November 08, 1998|Elysa Gardner

Since emerging as a major force in contemporary R&B, Kelly has juggled a bad-boy persona with a musical sensibility as smooth and accessible as that of Babyface, his relatively G-rated rival for the title of reigning singing-writing-producing R&B love man of the '90s. With his new double-CD set, Kelly aspires to both maintain his street credibility and expand on his crossover success; he blends hip-hop brio and bombast with some of his prettiest, most tenderly soulful writing and singing to date.

Though it includes guest appearances by stars ranging from Celine Dion--who duets with Kelly on the ethereal single "I'm Your Angel"--to gangsta-rap-affiliated artists Foxy Brown and Nas, this is a highly personal effort, shaped by Kelly's own frank and sometimes conflicting views on love and money, faith and fame. Kelly veers from buoyantly funky boleros like "Spending Money" and "If I'm With You" to slow-groove scorchers such as "Don't Put Me Out" and "2nd Kelly"--both of which seem inspired by early Prince, with their quivering, falsetto-laced vocals and barely restrained carnality.

In general, Kelly is more effective when focusing on a relationship than when boasting about or examining his own life. On the lithe, sultry "One Man," he appeals with irresistible candor to a woman who's been wronged by another guy; on "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time," his radiant homage to doo-wop, Kelly himself is the errant lover, begging forgiveness with a fervor and fluidity that would do Marvin or Teddy or Al proud.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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