Avant is a floater, a hovering talk-crooner in the mode of R. Kelly or Usher, sans so many beads of sweat. He walks the fine line confronting all contemporary soul men since the advent of hip-hop — sexy enough for the ladies, rugged enough for the fellas — with a slight preference and deference for pillow talk.
At 32, the balancing act gets trickier. It’s been 18 months since Avant’s last record — his fifth overall, and eponymous — and he’s clearly trying to expand his reach. The silver-tongued, pot-suffused rapper Snoop Dogg drops by for a guest stint on “Attention,” and the lyrics to “Break Ya Back,” has him boasting that he was going to sexually break his lady’s back “in a good way …” Uh, huh. Macho bona fides firmly in place, he flips into Christopher Cross’s wimpy docksiders for a loyal cover of the 70s hit, “Sailing.”
But the best tracks on “Avant” are none of the above. As on his other discs, he is most successful — commercially and artistically — when he emotes like a grownup. His breakthrough hit was “Read Your Mind,” a rare make-out song explicitly about the sexiest part of a woman. On “Avant,” his explication of true-blue commitment sounds sincere enough to elevate “When It Hurts,” and the way his phrasing meshes with the beats on “Material Things” reminds us of his sophisticated rhythmic capabilities.
No doubt they’ll be plenty of double entendres and shopworn gender clichés as Avant romances the ladies at the Fine Line Friday. But if he’s thinking ahead, he’ll understand that an increasing number of folks listening to soul singers nowadays, and especially non-teen crooners, want a little more complexity and nuance astride the lusty humor and juvenile antics. The bump-and-grind of the day-to-day commitment is ultimately more relevant than hips on a swivel. Although we won’t deny that more than a few ladies in the audience will be there for the gawker slowdown.
Here is Avant’s MySpace page.
Here is the video for “Read Your Mind.”
Here is his cover of “Sailing.”
Avant at the Fine Line Music Café, Friday, May 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26, and $50 for VIP seating.