Concert preview: A romantic holiday concert with KEM

Published Fri, Dec 13, 2013 07:22 AM
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Kem. Meeno

Submitted by Craig D. Lindsey — Correspondent

With a rep as one of black music’s smoothest performers, KEM wasn’t all that keen on being just another recording artist with a Christmas album under his belt.

“I kind of resisted doing a Christmas record for a long time, because I didn’t want to do the same mash-up of Christmas songs,” says KEM (real name: Kem Owens), on the phone from his Detroit home. “And I definitely didn’t want to do an album full of covers.”

Nevertheless, the Nashville-born, Grammy-nominated, R&B singer-songwriter released “What Christmas Means,” his fourth studio album, last year.

“Initially, it wasn’t going to be an entire album,” he says. “Initially, we were going to just do a few songs, you know – three, four, five songs – and make an EP and just put it out as some bonus material during the holiday. But the more that I got into it – it’s a process – and into the writing, I realized, as everybody realized, you know what, we just need to go ahead and just make this a bona fide album. And make it one that is worthwhile and that will, hopefully, stand the test of time.”

KEM assembled both original and classic yuletide numbers on the album, some of which includes string arrangements courtesy of Motown arranging great (and one of the original Funk Brothers) Paul Riser. He corralled an eclectic selection of standards, including the timeless, oft-covered “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and a rather romantic rendition of “Christmas Time Is Here,” which is most famous for coming from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“I just wanted to make sure that I chose songs that would fit into the collective work – songs that I knew, I felt, I would be able to arrange in a way that would lend themselves to my style of production and my style of song interpretation,” he says. “And ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ is my favorite Christmas song. So, to be able to sing that song and sing it in a way that is – it’s very sensual the way it’s done, you know, and it’s a different spin on that song.”

That’s the crazy thing you realize while listening to “Christmas”: this is perhaps the only holiday-themed album out there that can get you in the mood for some lovin’.

“You know, Christmas is a romantic holiday as well,” says KEM, who hopes couples will pour some pinot and listen to this after dealing with Christmas-related chores. “And, you know, throughout the hustle and bustle of shopping, you also have those moments where you’re with your significant other and, depending what part of the country you are in, it may be chilly outside. You got the fire going, you know. So we wanted to speak to all the aspects of the holiday, and romance – for me, at least – is truly a part of it.”

KEM had such a good time making “Christmas” that he went back and recorded more tunes for a deluxe album, which just recently dropped. Four tunes were added, including the original number “Jesus,” which features vocals from Patti LaBelle and Ronald Isley. “When I released the first edition last year, I knew that I wanted to add more songs to it before I was done,” he says. “I knew that I would come back and add more material to it, just add more value to it and give it more life. And my hope is that we did a good job.”

He’s now out on tour, turning his Christmas album into a live experience. Along with KEM performing songs from the album, actor/comedian Anthony Anderson is on hand as the show’s MC. Raleigh vocalist Yolanda Rabun (who also released a Christmas album last year) will perform alongside KEM for the show at Durham Performing Arts Center on Monday.

KEM hopes audiences will be so moved by the musical tidings he brings live that “What Christmas Means” will eventually become a regular favorite in people’s holiday heavy rotation.

“I approached this album with the same intent that I would approach my studio albums,” he says. “It wasn’t just a marketing ploy, you know. It was something that I wanted to last and to have value, and to add value to people’s lives for years to come.”


Who: KEM, with Anthony Anderson and Yolanda Rabun

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham

Cost: $45-$100

Info: 919-680-2787 or

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