Part of R. Kelly's particular genius is the ability to work brilliantly at all emotional pitches. The loftiest inspirational tract. The basest sexual come-on. The bawdiest cornball humor. Kellz can do, has done it all, investing each with equal levels of expressiveness. Father John Misty's pipes-flaunting cover of the R.'s Space Jam theme "I Believe I Can Fly" made the online rounds recently; How to Dress Well's aching take on dead-friend tribute "I Wish" and, a few years earlier, Bonnie "Prince" Billy's rustic recasting of Ali soundtrack anthem "The World's Greatest" both show a similarly heartfelt appreciation for Kelly's graceful ease with all modes. And, after all, no one should expect any less of the man who wrote — and in 2010 re-recorded — Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone."
So it's perfectly natural for Kelly to go from talking up a possible book and Broadway musical based on his lovably goofy Trapped in the Closet R&B soap opera to honoring the victims in last month's tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In fact, he has previously paid musical tribute to those affected by Hurricane Katrina as well as those lost in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Now, the Pied Piper is offering similar gospel-pop solace to everyone suffering from the massacre in Connecticut, complete with a children's choir and Babyface-style acoustic guitar, on "I Know You Are Hurting," a somewhat endearingly sappy ballad of condolence.
What helps Kelly stand out as a great, whatever the forum, is that he's just as untrammeled dishing up Chicken Soup for the Soul as he is describing sex in the kitchen. Don't worry, we don't think this is his finest work, either. But we can imagine being in such a devastated emotional state, stripped bare of our usual cynical defenses, that we — or our loved ones — might find some comfort in it. And the fact the iTunes proceeds benefit the Sandy Hook victims' families isn't so bad, either.