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Music Review: Kem – Intimacy

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Appropriately titled Intimacy, R&B singer Kem’s third album has a looser feel, as if eavesdropping on a jam session at a small club. This welcome approach allows Kem to further explore his jazz side and emphasize his deeply emotional lyrics.

Kem first burst onto the music scene in 2002, with the first single “Love Calls” receiving much radio airplay. Initially critics focused on his uncanny resemblance to Al Jarreau, particularly due to Kem’s scatting vocals. But the subsequent album, Kemistry, showcased his talents as a gifted keyboardist and singer/songwriter. His lyrics, frequently addressing love in its various forms (mostly romantic and spiritual), gained him a following in the R&B and contemporary jazz fields. His followup, 2005’s aptly titled Album II, functioned as a sequel to the first CD, with Kem continuing to develop his musical skills. Stevie Wonder’s guest turn on the track “You Might Win” solidified Kem’s reputation as an artful crooner who could span genres. Kem

Intimacy marks his long-awaited return, and the album does not disappoint. “When I’m Lovin’ You” is classic Kem, with its shuffling beat recalling old school stepping singles. His jazz-tinged vocals are in fine form on “Can You Feel It” (no relation to the Jacksons’ song), with his voice effortlessly gliding over the lovely chord changes. The first single, the ballad “Why Would You Stay,” strays more into pop territory, although his keyboards and singing style retain that distinctive Kem sound.

Perhaps no other track exemplifies Kem’s typical themes than “Love Never Fails,” which tenderly addresses a breakup. “I want for you something better,” he sings. “But remember one thing/Hey girl/My love for you will never fail.” Featuring a bare bones arrangement with just Kem accompanying himself on keyboards, the song upholds the power of love, even when it fades and changes into something new. Indeed, the tune’s theme and sparse arrangement encapsulate the album’s title.

Although he continues his jazzy vocal style, he experiments with his range on cuts such as “Share My Life,” which ends in an exalted chorus of “yeahs,” allowing him to reach higher notes with increased power. Conversely, he uses his lower ranges and almost whispers through “Human Touch,” imploring his lover to “take off your shoes” and kick back with him. A muted trumpet solo gives the song a jazzy touch. Fans of Album II should love “You’re on My Mind,” a slightly uptempo number that smoothly combines contemporary jazz and R&B. The beautiful chord changes hold the listener’s interest, and the live feel suggests an intimate performance in a small club.

The most unusual cut on Intimacy is “Golden Days,” which speaks to Kem’s spiritual side. While listed as a duet with Jill Scott, the song actually features Scott preaching for over a minute in the middle of the track. Beginning as a typical Kem cut, with his scatting and smooth keyboards, the song suddenly veers into gospel when Scott begins speaking. “This is life, you it owe it, life does not owe you, OK?” she states, her voice filled with fire. While those familiar with previous tracks like “Divine Order” may not be surprised by the song’s tone, Kem has never dealt with spiritual themes with such passion.

Intimacy represents another strong effort from Kem, who takes his music not in a radical direction, but in a more, well, intimate one. The sparse arrangements, live sound, and ever-expanding vocal style make the album a worthwhile listen. To echo his sentiments, just kick off your shoes, relax, and immerse yourself in Kem’s gentle sounds.

For more information, visit Kem’s official site.

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About Kit O'Toole