Sex Sells

R&B crooner R. Kelly -- a.k.a. Robert Kelly -- has never been one for modest amounts of anything. A prolific sexual honesty pervades his work -- sometimes discreetly, but more often blatantly. Recent song titles such as "Hump Bounce" and "Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)" pretty much sum it up. But this would all be so much idle dirty talk if Kelly didn't know his way around a hook, a beat and a slippery, slow-burn groove. To date, the Chicago native's catchy, candid expressions of lust reached their most pleasurable peak with "Bump N' Grind," which in 1993 became the longest running number one R&B single in more than three decades and helped steer Kelly's 12 Play into multiplatinum terrain. Ironically, it was a Kelly produced single -- Aaliyah's "Back and Forth" -- that finally toppled "Bump N' Grind" from its perch. Still, it wasn't a bad stab at longevity for an artist who celebrates fleeting moments of pleasure.

Many predict this soul-drenched, booty-obsessed singer/songwriter/producer has an even longer run ahead of him. Born Into the '90s (his 1991 debut), 12 Play and his latest self-titled CD have made believers out of the most hardened cynics. In recent months, Kelly's choir-trained vocals and hands-on approach have evoked references to Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Prince, and while such comparisons may be a bit premature, none of them seem particularly unwarranted. His sultry, addictive "Down Low," the second single from R. Kelly, is currently at rest in the higher elevations of Billboard's R&B Singles Chart, and its predecessor, "You Remind Me of Something," occupied the same spot months earlier. To top it all off, Kelly's also taking song orders from megastars; "You Are Not Alone," a tune Kelly wrote for Michael Jackson's HIStory, was the first single ever to enter the pop charts at number one.

Kelly boasts a mountain about his insatiable sexual appetite, but he's got a reflective side, too, one that comes out on tunes such as R. Kelly's "As I Look Into My Life." You can bet that sensitive stuff makes his drooling female fans desire him even more. Not that it's only a marketing ploy; Kelly has said over and over again that he sings from the heart. He's rich but down-to-earth; he's elusive but friendly; he's a superstar but still likes to sing at piano bars when the anonymity suits him. That depth of character makes Kelly an interesting study in superstardom, and allows his music to register not only below the belt, but above the shoulders as well. -- Hobart Rowland

R. Kelly performs at 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, at The Summit. L.L. Cool J, Xscape and Solo open. Tickets are $25.75 and $29.75. For info, call 629-3700.

Reverend Horton Heat -- In Carl Perkins' heyday, as the first-generation master recalls in his just released biography, rockabilly was the juncture where blues, country, honky-tonk and bluegrass met. "The rhythm, the beat, the mixture that's in it. It's two or three kinds of music together, is what rockabilly is," says Perkins. "And there's a spirit roaming around in it that keeps it all tied together."

Of course, that was before Dallasite Jim Heath re-birthed himself as the Reverend Horton Heat and pushed rockabilly out into the intersection where metal and punk collide. Perkins might not recognize Heat's particular stylistic pileup, but he'd surely recognize the timeless freight-train energy behind the alt-rock mask. The Reverend's been kind of quiet since 1994's Liquor in the Front and a tour stint opening for Soundgarden, but according to Heat's label, longtime longhaired, wild-man-behind-the-skins Patrick "Taz" Bentley is out of the band and new drummer Scott Churilla has taken over. Standup bassist Jimbo Wallace remains right where he's always been. As you read this, Heat and Co. are in the studio recording tracks for It's Martini Time, tentatively scheduled for release in early July. Who knows what else he's up to, but whatever it is, Heat's sure to be mixing two or three genres together. And as he's proven before, there's sure to be a spirit roaming around that keeps it all tied together. At Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Thursday, May 2. The Cows open. Tickets are $13. Doors open at 8 p.m. 629-3700. (Brad Tyer)

Carrie Newcomer -- Singer/songwriters used to be called something else: folk musicians. That term, once as all-encompassing as its replacement, has become a parody, conjuring images of lame guitar strumming and deceased lyrics. That's too bad, because by definition, folk music is the realest music, the music of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, people who work for a living. It's the music of truck stop waitresses, single moms, factory workers, teachers. Carrie Newcomer is a folk musician in that old sense. She's been a truck stop waitress, single mom, factory worker and teacher, and her accumulated insights are like steel threads woven into every song. Simple and direct, but not dumbed down, her messages resonate with all but the silver-spoon set. On the musical side, Newcomer is an able guitarist with a strong voice, rich enough to tap and transmit the emotional spectrum with oomph to spare. At McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, Thursday, May 2, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $6. 528-5999. (Bob Burtman


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Bob Burtman
Hobart Rowland
Brad Tyer