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Album Review: R. Kelly’s Love Letter

Love Letters is R. Kelly's 11th studio album, inspired his music mentors, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. It includes the singles "When A Woman Loves," "Love Letter" and "A Love Letter Christmas"

“I wanna bring love songs back to the radio.”   A proclamation made by one R. Kelly on the track “Lost in Your Love” on his 11 studio album, Love Letter, to address the lack of feeling in a medium so saturated with sex.  Considering that he, himself, initiated this musical revolution (or de-evolution) of overtly misogynistic erotic conquest, listeners may take it as either hypocrisy or the sign of an artist ready to repent for his past sins.  One way or another, Love Letter is a testament that the Pier Piper of R&B has a respect for his history.  Fourteen tracks of old fashioned arrangements and traditional vocal styling, Kellz looked to his heroes to craft an album that steered clear of the “old” him.

Unsatisfied with the public and press assuming that he’s trying to keep up with the new breed of singers – all guilty of copying him – the 43 year old singer/songwriter wanted to move a in different direction, channeling past crooners like Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke.  There is no disputing that R. Kelly is a leader in the music business.  His voice alone puts head-shoulders-and-torso above his successors, not to mention his incomporable songwriting.   However, this embracing of the good ole days follows the trend of artists like Raphael Saadiq (2008’s The Way I See It) and Cee Lo Green (this year’s The Lady Killer) adopting the sound of the 1960’s into their work.  Two songs, “Love Is” a duet with K. Michelle, could’ve been an outtake of a Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell tune.  Speaking of Gaye, if you were to remove Kelly’s lead vocal from “Music Must Be a Lady” you’d swear you were listening to Gaye’s “Just to Keep You Satisfied.”

“When A Woman Loves,” the first single, is maybe the most exaggerated of song on Love Letter to embrace this new direction, with it’s regal overture, simplistic guitar licks and confessional toward the microphone.  Outside of the somber album closer “How Do I Tell Her,” none of the remaining tracks are as melodramatic.  In fact, Love Letter is almost like the continuation of Kelly’s Happy People album, a CD dedicated to the stepping craze he helped bring to pop culture.  Tracks like “Just Can’t Get Enough” and the title track feature those same flute flourishes, guitar licks and signature tempo of his smash 2003 single “Step in the Name of Love.”

Kelly may be trying to enbody the spirits of his idols, but the Chicago bred singer’s idiosyncrasies still manage to steep through the music, namely by way of  his lyrics,  mentioning sex and love making at least once in each song.  The context of consumation throughout Love Letter, however, is considerable tasteful compared to last years Untitled, which included not-so-subtle lyrics like “Girl, you make me wanna get you pregnant,” or “I hope you’re ready to go all day long/I hope you’re ready, girl, to scream and moan.”  On “Number One Hit,” Kelly sings, “I love making love to your eyes/It’s like singing in the perfect key.”   If there’s a standout track, it has to be “Taxi Cab,” a brillant blend of Kelly’s sexual imagination and vivid instrumentation.  “Taxi Cab” tells the story of a man who meets a mysterious woman and together they have a romp in a cab.  The congo drums and dramatic guitar work gives the track an atmosphere of adventurous noir, finding a way to excite the libido without being ranchy – a fine line Kelly hasn’t walked well in the past.

The career of R. Kelly has been an ebb and flow of artistic maturity.  When he takes one step forward, he takes two steps back.  There is no doubt that he recognizes that people will follow him no matter what he does – in his profession or personal life.  But now that he’s feeling his age finally and he sees the environment which he’s help create, hopefully Love Letter will be a interlude of a new R. Kelly; an artist who’s willing to make risky statements with his voice and his pen. 

R. Kelly’s Love Letter gets 4 Headphones Out Of  5

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