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Brian McKnight

Gemini(Motown)

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He calls his latest album Gemini, but Brian McKnight has had a split musical personality for a while, and it hasn't always been an asset. Ever since he teamed up with P. Diddy on 1997's Anytime, McKnight has always made room for a trendy hip-hop collaboration or three.

So do plenty of other R&B romantics, of course; it's just that when attempted by McKnight -- a gifted vocalist, musician, and songwriter who radiates effortless L.A. studio cool -- it always seems as though he's neglecting more ambitious endeavors.

Gemini still has the guest rappers -- most notably, Juvenile on the ultra-dull "Whatcha Gonna Do?" -- but makes fewer concessions to urban music's inflexible demands than usual, with real, rich instrumentation caressing McKnight's adult contemporary grooves. Sometimes, as on the wah-wah-laced "Come Back," this just makes Gemini sound like his belated neosoul disc. Yet the album also includes some of McKnight's best, most unabashedly grandiose songs, including the moving, wide-screen crucifixion story "Me & You" and the six-plus blissful minutes of "Everything I Do," which fuse jazz changes, gospel harmonies, and Princely falsetto into one gorgeous package. That kind of musical schizophrenia, at least, needs no cure.

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