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Album Reviews : Mix of Carnal Impulses, Spiritual Longings : * 1/2, R. KELLY, “R. Kelly” <i> Jive</i>

Sex and faith have always been the twin heads driving soul music. From Marvin Gaye to Prince, R&B;'s giants have proven time and again that communion with God and communion with a warm body aren’t incompatible goals.

So when R. Kelly opens his new album with an organ-laced plea for deliverance, then segues directly into slammin’ bedroom funk, he’s not being inconsistent. Rather, contemporary soul’s love man of the moment is simply trying to reconcile the carnal impulses that have fueled his previous work--most notably 1994’s “12 Play"--with his obvious spiritual longings.

Granted, Kelly still spends most of his time--and is most convincing--in seduction mode. On slow-burn ballads such as “Tempo Slow” and “Step Into My Room,” he pours his hot fluid tenor onto lyrics that would make any reverend blush, while lean, sinuous grooves bump and grind right along with him. In contrast, he sounds a little self-conscious wailing in front of Kirk Franklin’s gospel choir on “Trade In My Life,” an ode to fidelity and forthrightness.

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

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