Love can be a many-splendored thing. That, at least, would seem to be the hope behind a pair of new contemporary R&B albums that rely on the heat generated by two married couples to keep the home fires burning: Things That Lovers Do (Arista) by Kenny Lattimore & Chanté Moore, and Surrender to Love (Hidden Beach), by the duo Kindred the Family Soul. Yet modern R&B is more often treasured for its lasciviousness, as the king of contemporary soul, R Kelly, has repeatedly demonstrated. No one wants to hear about surrendering to true love. Which puts both these couples in a difficult position.
Kenny Lattimore and Chanté Moore are a pair of C-list R&B singers who after their marriage a couple of years back clawed their way up to the B-list. In a world that prizes a combination of acute talent and unhinged vocal histrionics, the two have had a hard time. Lattimore had a handful of modest hits in the mid í90s; Moore, despite assistance from producers like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, never quite found her groove, though her hyper-sentimental 1999 ballad " Chantéís Got a Man " was a surprise hit.
Featuring mostly cover tunes, The Things That Lovers Do is their first post-nuptials effort, and itís meant to be a concept album about the growth of their relationship, though we never really learn when they fell in love. The opening title track bubbles over with clichés, as Lattimore promises to " wine and dine " the object of his affection " in the finest restaurants " in order to get her " horizontal on Egyptian sheets " ó at which point he asks, " Baby, can you guess what we be doing? " Sounds like the plot to a Red Shoe Diaries episode.
Moore somehow manages to maintain her dignity, and more important, she keeps her vocals on track. But Lattimore stretches himself in ways that a single man concerned about his image would not. On " With You Iím Born Again, " a tune first made famous by Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright, he aims for the operatic and misses badly; on " Love Saw, " a song popularized by Babyface and Karyn White, he simply flails when he attempts to be as fey as Face. The disc does feature a few less disturbing moments, including respectable interpretations of Lionel Richieís " Still " and the Clint Black marriage ode " When I Said I Do. " But for the most part, Things That Lovers Do finds Moore and Lattimore trying to fit into shoes that are way too big for either of them. Their producers, perhaps sensing the mismatch, drown their voices in softcore synths and middlebrow percussion.
Then thereís the albumís babymaking potential. " WARNING! " reads a note on the back of the CD liner. " This project may cause pregnancy! Well, we got pregnant just making this album, so proceed with caution! " There are, however, no instructions on whether the album is meant to be played " loud. "
The similarly styled Surrender to Love by the similarly styled duo Kindred the Family Soul ó namely Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon ó runs into similar problems. " Far Away " finds Dantzler waxing nostalgic for simpler times: " Tired of broken street glass/Not getting no ass unless the babyís asleep/But even then it seems like Iím trying to compete. " How romantic!
Signed to Jill Scottís label, Hidden Beach, this Philly couple slide neatly into their home cityís neo-soul paradigm with warm arrangements, unadorned vocals, and earthy subject matter. The albumís intro describes them as " divinity personified, " and indeed much of Surrender to Love is punishingly optimistic. " We " shouts out self-love, a childís love, and the peopleís love in one breathless run. On " Stars, " itís Graydon who does the glowing: " We continue to learn and our love grows deeper still/Each day I watch you get better at this/Each moment I am more and more convinced. " Thatís bordering on Hallmark territory.
Forceful sentiments, however, donít always translate into vibrant music. At least in " Far Away " and " Meant To Be, " the praise isnít reduced to something utterly mundane. But most of the album keeps striking the same sentimental notes. And though you can credit Dantzler and Graydon with an earnestness that doesnít come through from Lattimore and Moore, thatíll take an R&B album only so far. " Loving you is freedom, " they sing in unison on their closing track, and that may be true. The problem is, itís not terribly entertaining for the rest of us.