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Like Luther Vandross and Lionel Richie, soul singer Britt Prentice fails to ooze sex at first glance. His complexion has the texture of greasy Nerf foam. He’s a little paunchy. His dress is casual—maroon button-down shirt, Levi’s, brown leather shoes, and Aussie gel in a slick wave over his receding part. He merely blends into a Thursday-night crowd at Bethesda’s Capital City Brewing Company. All this changes when he orders clam chowder. He morphs into pure puppy dog. His blue eyes peer up from the menu as if he’s going to propose marriage to the waitress—or at least whisper the words “clam chowder” into her ear. “Just a cup,” he says softly.

The waitress remains neutral. “Are you sure you want just a cup?”

“How big is the bowl?” Prentice purrs. He agrees on the bowl: “She talked me into it.” He likes the waitress. He likes her breasts; he likes voluptuous women. “I think I’m in love with love,” he explains. “I’m in love with the notion of being in love.”

He has to be. On his self-released album, Unchained Soul, he labors through soft-focus, daytime-soap soul music in a quest for the meaning of romance. The songs are all satin sheets and cold Champale; it’s so drippy and steamy that tracks such as “Love Is a Mutual Thing” or “Hug Me Baby” could unkink Kenny G’s hair. What separates Prentice from the usual late-night WPGC fare is that he’s not begging for it—he’s not going to bust his balls over a woman. There isn’t an “On Bended Knee” in the bunch. No “bitch” or “ho,” either. But his overemoting can get him into trouble, especially on his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” titled “Slammin’ Anthem.” Adding his own verse, he moans, “Gotta give back to community….No more goin’ culture to vulture/We’re all in this together.” It’s so maudlin and pious; he’s best when it comes to the sanctity of the bedroom—an appropriate venue for those emo-extremes.

As an R&B softie, he believes love is to be studied. After being mentored at the University of Miami by Jon Secada, who was then a graduate student, he left the school, he says, because he was “theoried to death.” He needed to do field research. Prentice, who claims to be 26 but looks half a decade older, says he has had nine one-night stands, “dozens” of flings, and three or four serious relationships. You can see he’s serious when he walks to the bathroom at the bar. He struts, his eyes alert, hoping for some sort of contact. Unfortunately, tonight he gets no takers. Not even the waitress. “He seemed nice,” she reports to me. —Jason Cherkis