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Kem - Topic

Kemistry Play

Detroiter Kem Owens landed a five-album deal with Motown, and it's plain to see in the talent on display throughout his debut, Kemistry, why the label was attracted to him. Another reason why he was snapped up has to be for the lack of development that talent requires -- here, he arrives as fully formed as a label can hope for. Not only does Kem write, arrange, and produce all of his material, but he plays keyboards and also sings in a comforting, non-flashy manner. He isn't anxious to let you know he has a four-octave range. In fact, he's at the top of his game when his words of devotion and faith are gently wrapped around skeletal and hushed arrangements. He knows his strengths and never out-steps his boundaries, delivering a consistent, mature cross of R&B and jazz. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

What Christmas Means Play

Kem followers probably know to approach What Christmas Means without the expectation of hearing a thunderous version of "Little Drummer Boy" or collaborations with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Sure enough, the singer and songwriter's first Christmas album is filled with the same relaxed, romantic, spiritual, and gently uplifting moods of his studio albums. He didn't make this on autopilot, either. Among the ten songs, there are five originals, including the opening "Glorify the King" (on which he is backed by a Detroit gospel choir), the closing "Doo Wop Christmas" (a light a cappella number), and "Be Mine for Christmas" (a duet with Ledisi that cleverly incorporates "Me and Mrs. Jones"). The renditions of well-known songs, from "Christmas Time Is Here" to "We Three Kings," have the same secular-to-spiritual range. Kem fans who celebrate Christmas will likely value this disc as a seasonal staple for years to come. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Intimacy Play

All the subtle variations on Kem’s sound -- his exceptionally smooth adult contemporary R&B, modern quiet storm that has earned the singer two gold-selling albums -- add up to a set that doesn’t sound like a mere rehash of his past successes. While Intimacy features his familiar gentle, less-is-more touch throughout, it’s more forwardly sensual -- skillfully so, without being too brash or overt for his audience -- and upfront all-around, from the romantic material to the odes to mothers and inner peace. On Kemistry and Album II, there often was a slight distance to Kem’s voice, both sonically and lyrically, but there is no such air of mystery here. His voice is clear over the sparse arrangements, and his words are more direct than before. That said, the biggest surprise is “Golden Days,” in which Jill Scott, the first vocal guest on a Kem album, rants and preaches for over a minute. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Album II Play

Kem is as out of place with 2005's Album II as he was with his debut, 2003's Kemistry. Via word of mouth and some radio play, he has managed to find his way in with the adult crowd, who helped put Kemistry into the Top 20 of the R&B chart. His kind of R&B is kicked-back with sparse arrangements made elegantly rich with starlit keyboards, subtle guitar flicks, and feminine vocals. Understated but assured, his vocals exhibit a lot of range despite almost always remaining at the volume of a bedroom whisper. So he's really out place in the early 2000s, not stylistically disparate from what you'd hear late at night on a soul station in the late '70s or early '80s. On Album II, there's no stab taken at finding a younger or different audience. You could slip any of these songs between Heatwave's "Star of a Story" and George Benson's "Give Me the Night" without fear of disrupting the tone or mood. Stevie Wonder's guest harmonica on "You Might Win" keeps the connections to Motown and grown folks' music, but Rod Temperton -- the songwriter behind the two older songs mentioned above, not to mention heaps of other classics -- would be the ultimate dream collaborator for Kem. The two would suit each other perfectly. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi
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