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'Album II': Detroit R&B Crooner Kem Returns

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'Album II': Detroit R&B Crooner Kem Returns

Music

'Album II': Detroit R&B Crooner Kem Returns

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(Soundbite of music)

KEM (Singer/Songwriter): (Singing) So ask yourself this question. Is this how love is supposed to be?

ED GORDON, host:

Singer/songwriter Kem has carved out a special niche for himself in the music world through his jazz-influenced R&B vocal style. But Kem's rise up the musical ladder is only one part of what is an extraordinary life that has taken the singer from living on the streets to selling gold records. He says the trials in his life have helped make his music sound so rich. Kem believes the chord he struck with fans the first time around will be felt once again on the new CD, simply called "Album II."

(Soundbite of music)

KEM: (Singing) Packed up all my things to go, even made my flight.

I definitely made an effort to not alienate my core audience by trying to be anything other than what I was, you know, which is a songwriter first and conveying messages of love, faith and hope. And I think we succeeded in doing that with the "Kem Album II" CD. It sounds great and I'm pleased with it, and my hope is that you all will be pleased with it, too.

(Soundbite of "I Can't Stop Loving You")

KEM: (Singing) Ooh, baby, can't you see that I can't stop loving you. I can't stop loving you. I can't help myself, girl. Yeah.

GORDON: The single "I Can't Stop Loving You" almost immediately, when played on the radio across the country, was embraced, and I'm sure you heard, as I did, people were literally longing, jonesing...

KEM: Yeah.

GORDON: ...for "Kem II."

KEM: Yeah.

GORDON: Were you excited by the reception?

KEM: Very excited to know that people are eager to hear the new music, and that they're receiving it so well, you know. It's definitely, definitely a good thing.

GORDON: I had this discussion with Natalie Cole and a couple of other celebrities who have had trials and tribulations in their lives, and also comparisons, and I'll get to both of them with you. Your story has been told that you had many ups and downs in your life. There was a period that you were homeless...

KEM: Right.

GORDON: ...that you had dabbled in drinking and drugs and found yourself later on, and as we ofttimes know, that is the true measure of success, being able to pick yourself up.

KEM: Really, that's what my music, my career and my ministry is about, letting people know that they can overcome their limitations, that they can overcome adversity, you know, and I thank God for bringing me this far. And my career and my music really didn't start to take off until I realized that I could use music as a vehicle to share a message and reach people and have an effect on their lives in a positive way.

GORDON: You used the word ministry. Do you see your music, secular albeit, as a ministry?

KEM: Absolutely. Yeah. There's no greater reward for me, Ed, than to have a conversation like the one I had a few years ago where a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer and throughout her treatment the "Kemistry" CD was the soundtrack for that period of her life, you know, and there is testimony after testimony after testimony about how this music has played a role in people's lives in a positive way.

(Soundbite of music)

KEM: (Singing) It's a matter of time before I find my way home.

GORDON: Had you not, in your words, bottomed out, would you have been able to make the same music that you make today had you not bottomed out?

KEM: A lot of the songs that are on the "Kemistry" CD were cultivated during that time of my life. A lot of the chords and a lot of the melodies and progressions that are on that CD were written at that time, you know, so I would have to say that had I not been in that place, there may not be a "Kemistry" CD, so I wouldn't go back and change anything that has happened in my life.

GORDON: The other thing that I mentioned early on as I got into this is the idea of inevitable comparison.

KEM: Right.

GORDON: I can recall when Barry White first came out, people compared him immediately to Isaac Hayes...

KEM: Right.

GORDON: ...yet when you hear the voices today, you know the difference automatically.

KEM: Right.

GORDON: So many people have said that you sound like Al Jarreau.

KEM: Right.

GORDON: Some saying it's almost uncanny.

(Soundbite of music)

KEM: (Singing) I'm into you, girl. I get more confident each time you call my name.

GORDON: A, do you hear that? And B, do you hope down the line, like Barry White and Isaac Hayes, it will be an immediate distinction?

KEM: I definitely hear it. It's uncanny and frightening sometimes when I hear how much I sound like Al.

(Soundbite of music)

KEM: (Singing) Yeah, do do boom boom boom boom.

You know, at the same time, I know that I'm in good company, you know, and it's truly one of the highest compliments that I can be paid to be compared with a man who's done so much in music and for jazz. And I think that people can tell the difference. They can tell the difference now. You know, there are some similarities, but there are also some differences. I'm probably a little more, you know, subtle than Al is, and so I'm trying to get together with him so that we can do something together in the future.

GORDON: Wow. Which song on the CD was most fun for you to do?

KEM: We did a remake of an old George McCrae tune called "I Get Lifted."

GORDON: "I Get Lifted." Yeah.

(Soundbite of "I Get Lifted")

KEM: (Singing) I get lifted up high, girl.

It was fun, you know. I just brought the guys into the studio and we just basically did it live, you know. We did a few takes and put it together. It was fun and it's probably the most up-tempo song that I've ever recorded in my life, you know, and I hope people enjoy it.

GORDON: Let me ask you one other thing. I was reading up on you for this interview, and I saw in some article you don't like to talk about your age, per se. Why is that?

KEM: There's such a perception that goes along with it, and I want to reach as many people as I possibly can and not be pigeonholed into, you know, well, he makes music for a certain age group...

GORDON: Right.

KEM: ...or, you know--and someday that may change, you know. I'll talk about it and won't be so defensive or...

GORDON: Right.

KEM: ...you know, I won't be so, you know, bothered by it, but...

GORDON: Well, listen, for those who pick...

KEM: ...that day is not today.

GORDON: Well, listen, man, for those who pick up the new CD, you know, if I were you, you look good for 72, man...

KEM: Yeah.

GORDON: ...so don't sweat it.

KEM: You're very kind.

GORDON: Hey, listen, man, I'm, being a fellow Detroiter, proud and happy for you, excited about the new CD, and we thank you for coming in and sharing and spending some time with us.

KEM: And I thank you for your time, Ed.

(Soundbite of music)

KEM: (Singing) These are sacred days.

GORDON: Singer/songwriter Kem. His latest work, "Album II," is in stores today. You can hear full-length cuts from the CD on our Web site at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

KEM: (Singing) And then love has its way. Have your fill of its wonder, but never...

GORDON: That does it for the program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American public radio consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

KEM: (Singing) Play to win. Hey, hey, hey, ooh, ooh. You might...

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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