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Songs of flesh & fantasy

Aural aphrodisiacs for the year's key Hallmark holiday

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As our Lust List issue is meant to ease the passage of Valentine's Day, let me be your crit Cupid and propose some sonic arrows that cannot miss the heart and booty of your target.

Before he leapt to his death from the 15th floor of Manhattan's Essex House Hotel, the late sanctified soul icon Donny Hathaway cemented his place in the love song Hall of Fame, often in duets with Roberta Flack. The new collection The Very Best of Roberta Flack (Atlantic/Rhino; Rating: ***) shows its real worth in including such enshrined duets with Hathaway as "The Closer I Get To You," "Back Together Again," "You Are My Heaven" and (my favorite) "Where Is The Love." Altogether, these duets are erotic foreplay for the mind and body.

By the hand of the Divine, some voices are meant to sing together. This was proven absolutely when Flack & Hathaway succeeded the immortal Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell in the hearts of many. Flack, a DC schoolmarm turned singer-songwriter, shines best and sounds warmest as her trilling smoke entwines with Hathaway's churchy tones. Several of her "slow jam" standards include, of course, Eugene McDaniels' great, moody "Feel Like Makin' Love," "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love" with Peabo Bryson, and, inevitably, "Killing Me Softly With His Song." But the superb grit and rigorous intelligence that provided such a lucrative template for Lauryn Hill is only partly in evidence on this collection. The Very Best Of suffers from the absence of McDaniels' bitter-and-brimstone classics "Compared to What" and "Reverend Lee" as signifiers of the thorny aesthetic which has sidelined Flack's latter-day career. Thus this comp is most useful as the soundtrack for a tasteful lovefest.

Speaking of superior slow jams, I am indeed miffed to have arrived in NYC last week on the night after Anthony Hamilton's sold-out show at the Canal Room. I am quite the fan and so it's with trepidation that I venture to critique the hometown hero. Yet Hamilton's recent Ain't Nobody Worryin' (Arista; Rating: ***) is somewhat inferior to his masterwork to-date, Comin' From Where I'm From. I did notice right off Hamilton's overt adoption of the Donny Hathaway Look (cap, t-neck. . .even the same facial hair and 'fro) on Ain't Nobody's cover. What's even more intriguing is that the disc opens with "Where Did It Go Wrong?" a heavy track that vocally invokes the Gap Band's Uncle Charlie Wilson rather than Chi-Town crooner Hathaway. This subtly signals the shift in sonic forefathers between the previous and current neo-soul generations. On "Preacher's Daughter," Hamilton does echo both Hathaway's and Wilson's passionate hollers. Still, nothing on Ain't Nobody rivals Hamilton's brilliant "Lucille" in probing the darker aspects of love.

Howard Tate is another elder statesman that Hamilton should be hipped to (if he hasn't already been). Tate's is the old story: early fame (in the mid-60s), intervening obscure years of personal and professional hardship (including catalog going out of print) and then late-career resuscitation by younger rare-grooves adherents. Like Solomon Burke before him, R&B legend Tate was extremely deserving of a return, his once-fruitful partnership with writer-arranger Jerry Ragovoy having rendered him permanently worthy. Tate originated "Get It While You Can" and his incendiary version on the new Howard Tate Live (Shout! Factory; Rating: ****) gives you a clue why Janis Joplin wanted to cover it. Nothing, including time and adversity, can reduce the inexorable power of a song well sung.

This is a good thing, as bona fide eargasms are few in these days of rampant celeb vanity recordings and pitch correction. With the relatively recent passing of 70s moan-meister Barry White and Sade amidst her next seven-year release interval, my collection is suddenly deficient of prime aural erotica. But here are some other discs that might heighten the Valentine's Day experience for you and yo' boo:

Punks bleed on the altar of amour too, not just in the pit. And the glossies' favorite new cover boy, Rama-Ukrainian émigré Eugene Hütz, is here to be their hardcore soul provider. Run, don't walk, to acquire Gypsy Punks (Side One Dummy; Rating: *** 1/2) by Hütz's NYC rock group Gogol Bordello. If the romantic gypsy violins of "Underdog World Strike" don't scream allure, then "Think Locally Fuck Globally" ought to part any spiky-haired babe from her safety pins. Currently the nation's most prominent "Immigrant Punk," Hütz slyly works the specter of Slavic menace, twirling his Old World mustaches like an East Village Mephistopheles and threatening the amber waves purity of Midwestern teenage poon. Ain't the global village a wonderful thang?

If you're throwing an intimate house party, consider The Gamble Brothers' Continuator (Archer Records; Rating: ** 1/2). Hailing from Memphis, the Gambles' sound centers on a retronuevo version of the horn-driven soul and funk that became the city's hallmark in the 60s and 70s. They would not be out of place on a bill with jam favorites Soulive (appearing at the Neighborhood Theatre this Saturday) or Galactic. To be sure, Continuator's good-time and done-wrong songs like "Hold Out 'Til Monday" and "Heart's Not In It" would get any female invitees' hips swinging fit to give dancefloor Lotharios racy thoughts.

Funk from even farther south is represented on Putumayo Presents Brazilian Lounge (Putumayo World Music; Rating: ***). The very mention of Brazil evokes sultry sensuality, exotic passion and bronzed bodies on display at Rio's beaches. Samba beats mesh with jazzy horns and electro flourishes on Brazilian Lounge's 12 cuts. Best of all is the somewhat dark "E Depois" by BiD feat. Seu Jorge, channeling the sexually charged mystery of the nation's Yoruba-derived religions.

Consult Can You Dig It? Ultimate Isaac Hayes (Stax; Rating: *** 1/2) for the prime soundtrack to marathon lovin' that would make tantric sex enthusiast Sting say, "Damn!" There are plenty of lo-o-ong songs suitable for strokin' to, including the 12-minute "Walk On By," a cover of Glen Campbell's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (clocking in at 7:03), and "I Stand Accused" (11:35). Plenty of babies have been made to the beat of this erstwhile Stax producer-composer's Oscar-winning blend of sexual chocolate: a churning rhythm section, sleazy horns, hothouse backing harmonies, strings at once percussive and limpid. To enhance the sensory overload effect, there's also an additional DVD, primarily featuring footage from Hayes' flamboyant performance at the 1972 Wattstax festival. You'd be horizontally big pimpin' by playing a clip of the "Black Moses" on repeat as you do the deed. ("Theme from Shaft" perhaps?) What's more irresistible than a big, bald-headed bro with a rough velvet baritone, a gold-chain maxi vest, and a personal introduction from the Rev. Jesse Jackson? An added bonus for younger fans of Hayes in South Park "Chef" mode is the tongue-in-cheek and naughty animated video for "Chocolate Salty Balls," lip-smacking recipe included.

As a parting quickie: if you are in possession of both a decent record collection and an impatient lover, may I suggest Ike & Tina Turner's full-tilt boogie cover of Sly Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher"? I recently rediscovered this track's power, as it heralded Aerosmith taking the stage recently at the Arena. Never fear -- the specter of Ike will not cool your ardor. The lusty wails of Tina and the Ikettes will immediately send you spinning into a space of pure pleasure.

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