From the beginning, R. Kelly's music has always been informed in part by the classic '60s and '70s Northern soul sounds of Motown, Philly, and Kelly's own underrated-in-soul-terms Chicago home. But this year's Write Me Back, Kelly's 14th album, is, along with the 2010 companion Love Letter, his most flagrantly retro move yet. And it's a testament to Kelly's deep musicality that these albums feel far less forced than pretty much any other of the many mainstream R&B look-backs in recent years.
Kelly, who may well be a bit of a creep in real life, has always had an undercurrent of weirdness to him. Following his legal troubles earlier this decade, he exploited that element a bit too much, resulting in the epic and tedious "Trapped in the Closet" series, a bit of too-willful weirdness that proved especially titillating to curiosity seekers outside the normal R&B audience. But Kelly has thankfully gotten past that and is back to pursuing beauty and groove with the insistence and seeming ease that marked his classic singles "Step in the Name of Love" and "Happy People."
R. Kelly brings his "Single Ladies" tour to the Orpheum theater on Tuesday, October 23rd, with opener Tamia. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.
— Chris Herrington