Radio Gaga

Kevin Lyttle, "Turn Me On"

What little patience I had for Lil Jon's three-sheets-to-the-wind caterwaul was exhausted about fifty-eleven hours ago, so I see his vocal absence from Ciara's "Goodies" as an act of charity. I also applaud his spare production on this laid-back charmer, on which the 18-year-old Ciara, panting and cooing and not exactly professing abstinence, tells scrubs and thugs that her "goodies stay in the jar." (Coolest bawdy R&B candy metaphor since Mtume's "Juicy Fruit"?) Lil Jon is a major pig and a minor talent, but he can be fun, and he's doing honorable work with cheesy synth sounds. On "Goodies," a portamento siren (Siren?) out of Above the Law's "Murder Rap" is the sort-of hook, and Lil gets more mileage out of the fat, bright sound he often uses for his rudimentary melody lines. (I had a Roland synthesizer from the '80s that had a similar sound patch, which I believe was named "Galactic Swoosh.") Craig Love's punchy, sporadic guitar shows how far you can go with great tone and no flash when you're given lots of space to fill. As for Ciara, her delivery is somewhere between robot and opera-school flunk-out and it has all the humorlessness of late-era Janet and milkshook Kelis. Her distance is at least fitting, and a low-key Petey Pablo gives the male perspective a drawlingly light touch.

Kevin Lyttle is another kind of singer altogether: a good one. The St. Vincent rhythm and soca singer's "Turn Me On" is one of those international hits that seem to conquer the shrinking globe by horse and buggy. Three years after its original release and its great success in the islands and in Europe, the vaguely retro (early '90s?) dance number has finally reached the land of the freer than most, and on behalf of all Americans, let me say: Kevin Lyttle, we like you. Lyttle's breezy tenor is the sound of a silk suit dyed pale blue, and his eyes-closed flourishes are both impressive and restrained. Like Keith Sweat and unlike most current R&B and hip-hop seducers, Lyttle can move from active ("You're going home with me tonight") to passive ("Girl, caress my body...hug me, kiss me") in a single single, though as with other high-singing men, he's not so convincing when coming on strong. One almost expects him to follow that "You're going home with me" line with "That is, if you're of a mind to, and if you're in the mood for Yahtzee and cuddling." No matter--a guy too gentle at heart to convincingly come on strong is welcome in this era of musical command sexuality, and he's certainly no prude. I've been out of the dating scene for a while and am unfamiliar with the amatory patois of St. Vincent, but lines like "got the python hollering for mercy" and "push that thing, push it harder back on me" (that's his dance partner talking) just have to be dirty, and to paraphrase Salt 'N Pepa, Lyttle pushes real good.

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