If R. Kelly's straight-to-video epics ever earn him some hard time, there'll be no shortage of horny R&B singers eager to step into -- and out of -- his silk robe. Up to this point, Cleveland crooner Avant seemed like only one of many wannabes queuing for the opportunity -- and not an especially strong contender; his first two outings were full of the requisite erotic balladry, but had few of the hooks to make it stick. Yet Avant's third album, Private Room, is a pleasant surprise.
While little has changed on the surface -- stalwart producer Steve Huff still oversees most of the tracks, and the results suggest Avant is finally more than just an understudy. Leaving behind the two-chords-and-testify approach that put too much pressure on his silken vocals, Avant and Huff put their faith instead in the sturdy melodies of "Everything About You" and "Feast," which hit a likable balance between neosoul and modernism. This Private Room still isn't the Ritz -- but it's no longer some faceless chain motel either.