Looking for Love

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If you're a fan of Philly R&B; singing Soulquarian Bilal, chances are you already have his latest album Love for Sale. For a while it seemed like anyone with a MySpace page was automatically sent a copy upon signing up.But here's the thing: Love, the follow-up to his exemplary 2001 debut 1st Born Second, has yet to be released. It seems like we have another case of an album hitting the information superhighway before it fills up the racks at Best Buy. And it might never get there.

There's been no word whether Love, which hit the Web early last year, will receive a legitimate release date. And finding somebody to talk about it is damn near impossible.

Repeated phone calls to Interscope (which distributed Second) and Universal (which is supposed to distribute Love) lead to dead ends. Since nobody knows who produced what, it's been a bitch tracking down the album's producers. (Up-and-comers SA-RA produced one track, but I haven't gotten in touch with them either.)

Even the artist himself has been both mum and elusive. His MySpace page isn't taking messages because he's out on tour. But he's left comment about the album leak and the possibility of it halting the release. "Having this material floating around puts it in jeopardy of being shelved before its scheduled release," he writes. "Music is my livelihood, so I'm fighting to preserve as much of this project as possible."

With the album being an easily accessed bootleg, not to mention shrouded in mystery, Love is beginning to become the black-music equivalent of Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine. Just like Apple's notoriously shelved (and eventually released) third album, it's growing a cult of fans who believe the project is just too daring, too versatile, too out-there for mainstream ears.

A Technorati search for Love turns up more than a few bloggers singing the album's praises. Philly college student Zita Jackson was enamored enough by Bilal's eccentric/electric style to put it on her 2006 10-best list.

"His sound is very different," says Jackson, 19. "Sometimes he comes off kinda weird, like when you hear a song and he sounds kinda high and everything. But I never found that extremely strange about him. I thought that's what made him kinda unique."

Indeed, Love has Bilal doing what he does best: bugging the hell out on wax. While it lacks the ambitiously moody numbers like "Queen of Sanity," "When Will You Call" or the angsty "Sometimes" that made Second such an alt-soul masterwork, it's still another album full of complex, smoothed-out Philly soul.

Bilal certainly reinforces his tortured-romantic m.o., churning out lovesick tunes that show off his classical music training ("All for Love"), his wicked sense of humor ("Get out of My Hair") and his flair for sensual, panty-dropping sweet talk ("White Turns to Grey"). By far, Love's crown jewel is "Make Me Over," a sick, let's-give-'em-something-to-talk-about funk jam that you can bang a million times without it getting old.

We can only wait and see if Love will get the commercial release it so rightly deserves, or even if Bilal will just scrap it and record new material for another album. The only person who can tell us anything is Bilal, and he isn't talking.

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