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Album review: R. Kelly’s ‘Love Letter’

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In all the tumult surrounding R. Kelly -- his sex scandals, his court debacles, his way with a vegetable-as-romantic-stand-in metaphor -- one thing often gets lost. The man can sing. On recent albums, that fact got lost behind his daffy slow jams (“Sex Planet” or “The Zoo,” for instance) that disguised his melodicism and vocal powers. On “Love Letter,” he does away with the freakiness and lays down a full record of slow-simmered, grown-man emoting. And it feels like a wayward husband who’s finally come home for good.

Some of us also love the lusty, batty Kells whose come-ons could make Prince blush. But “Love Letter” isn’t that album. Instead, it’s steeped in vintage Stax and Motown. “When a Woman Loves” gracefully nods to Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” while giving Kells a smoky, tempered backdrop to tap decades of undeserving-man ballads. Wait for the pleading a capella bridge, which goes on three times as long as it needs to -- and it scorches. “Love Is” has a ‘Soul Train’ pluck, and “Number One Hit” rides babymaking synthesizers worthy of Sade. Only a bonus cover of his Michael Jackson collaboration, “You Are Not Alone,” feels tacked on.

The rest are all misty-eyed jams to make Maxwell and Raphael Saadiq feel topped. “Lost in Your Love” asks the album’s central question: “Can I bring love songs back to the radio?” Yes, Kells, you can. And it’s been far too long.

-- August Brown

R. Kelly
“Love Letter’
Jive Records
Three and a half stars


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