Avant

Ecstasy

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Creatively, Avant's sophomore album, Ecstasy, is a step forward for the Cleveland-based urban contemporary singer. This 2002 release isn't perfect -- some of the tracks are routine and pedestrian. But Ecstasy contains more gems than My Thoughts, Avant's competent, if uneven, debut album of 2000. Some things haven't changed; Ecstasy, like My Thoughts, was produced by Steve "Stone" Huff and Avant still brings a strong R. Kelly influence to the table, which means that listeners are also hearing a strong Ronald Isley influence. (Ronald Isley, lead singer of the Isley Brothers, is among Kelly's primary influences.) Ecstasy is hardly a radical departure from My Thoughts; the main difference between the two albums is that this time Avant usually has stronger material to work with. The Midwesterner really soars on the bluesy "You Ain't Right" and he is equally impressive on the moody "One Way Street (a duet with the Gap Band's Charlie Wilson). Also quite memorable is "Six in da Morning," which should not be confused with Ice-T's 1986 gangsta rap classic but is a funky, hip-hop-minded jam along the lines of Kelly's "Fiesta." Showing his flexibility, Avant demonstrates that he is as comfortable with hip-hop-friendly funk as he is with romantic ballads and slow jams. Again, Ecstasy (which lists basketball icon Magic Johnson as one of its executive producers) isn't without its share of generic filler, but the CD doesn't have as much of it as My Thoughts -- and for every minus that you can find on this release, there are three or four pluses. If you had to choose between Ecstasy and My Thoughts, this album would be a better investment.

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