R. KellyR. Kelly (Jive 41579)Given how unblushingly carnal...

CD REVIEWS

November 30, 1995|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

R. Kelly

R. Kelly (Jive 41579)

Given how unblushingly carnal R. Kelly's biggest hits have been, it may seem a bit odd to find him beginning his current album, "R. Kelly," with a gospel-fired invocation called "The Sermon." Of course, the judge-not cast of Kelly's "Sermon" isn't exactly standard-issue Baptist theology; in essence, all he's asking is that listeners accept that he sees success as God's blessing on his work. And maybe it is. After all, Kelly has gotten so good at soulful, slow-grind love songs that "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)" finds him holding his own with elder statesman Ronald Isley, while his vocal on "(You to Be) Be Happy" evinces even more manful confidence than Notorious B.I.G.'s rap. Even better, Kelly has some first-rate melodies to work with this time around, thanks to the old-school chorus of "Love Is On the Way" and the tuneful pleading of "I Can't Sleep Baby (If I)." Granted, not every listener is going to be comfortable with Kelly's insistence that sexiness is next to godliness, but the simmering intensity of "Religious Love" will likely win him more than a few converts.

Actual Miles: Henley's Greatest Hits

Don Henley (Geffen 24834)

Releasing a Greatest Hits package after just three albums suggests that the artist in question is either a monumental hit machine or desperate to get out of his or her current contract. In the case of "Actual Miles: Henley's Greatest Hits," it's a bit of both. Don Henley has been desperate to get out of his deal with Geffen for some time, and both the Eagles' reunion album and this best-of collection are part of the exit agreement the two parties worked out. But even if it is a contract-buster at heart, there's no denying that Henley's three previous albums produced their share of memorable material. At its best, Henley's work is as quotable as it is hummable, and songs like "New York Minute," "The End of the Innocence" and "The Boys of Summer" still leave listeners hanging on every word and note. But many of these tunes seem dated ("All She Wants to Do Is Dance"), trite ("Dirty Laundry") or both ("I Will Not Go Quietly"). Moreover, of the three new songs included, only "The Garden of Allah" merits repeated listening -- and then mainly to marvel at how openly the tune apes Randy Newman's writing style.

Southern Gal

Terry Ellis (EastWest 61857)

Even though Terry Ellis constitutes one-quarter of En Vogue, the sound she presents on "Southern Gal" is wholly her own. It isn't just that the vocal mix is softer than the sound she makes with the group; there's also a stronger soul music flavor to the material. That shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that the title alludes to the Maze oldie "Southern Girl," but to her credit, Ellis doesn't opt for a straight retro-soul approach, choosing instead to fold her R&B influences into the fabric of her songs. Whether that's as overt as the reference points that dot "Back Down Memory Lane," or as subtle as the classic soul undercurrent that tugs at "You Make Me High" or "I Don't Mind" (note the "Mama Said" quote in the intro), Ellis uses those roots to ground her singing, giving it a depth and resonance that's all too rare in contemporary R&B. Add in the sassy sophistication of "She's a Lady," and you'll find yourself wishing every diva could be as likable as this "Southern Gal."

P

P (Capitol 32842)

Because actor Johnny Depp is one of the guitarists in P, a lot of people are going to take this album as a bit of celebrity slumming, a la Keanu Reeves' tour with Dogstar. But the sound of P owes more to singer Gibby Haynes than anything Depp does on guitar, and as a result, "P" comes across less as a star vehicle than a bizarre offshoot of Haynes' other band, the Butthole Surfers. Certainly that's the case with the determinedly perverse "Mr. Officer" or the demented ravings of "Zing Splash," songs that seem cut from the same cloth as Surfers classics like "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave." Of course, it's not all avant-rock craziness, though the remainder of the album is pretty weird, from the 12-bar howl of "White Man Sings the Blues" to the acid-dub of "Jon Glenn (Mega Mix)." But P's real genius is its ability to leave the listener guessing at its actual intentions, as with "Michael Stipe," an affectionate jibe at alterna-rock's most enigmatic scene-maker, and "Dancing Queen," which seems as much a celebration as a send-up of ABBA's pop genius.

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