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Silky that slides into slippery

June 12, 2005|Natalie Nichols

Kem

"Kem Album II" (Motown)

* * 1/2

That silky, resonant baritone. That meaningful, come-hither gaze. That refreshingly uncliched way with romantic cliches. Yep, Detroit-based singer-songwriter Kem has something smart 'n' sexy goin' on.

At its best, his sophomore album's smooooooth blend of glossy jazz, gentle R&B, poppy soul and watery funk is a pleasant modern take on the '70s-era stylings of such Motown predecessors as Stevie Wonder (who guests on harmonica for the jingly "You Might Win"), often evoking the velvet envelope of a classic Sade album.

Aside from his voice, Kem's strength lies in his talent for expressing genuine, complex emotions in thoughtful, mature yet dreamy terms. He shines on such numbers as the regretful single "I Can't Stop Loving You," the torchy ballad "Heaven" and the gently propulsive reflection on a push-pull relationship "Find Your Way (Back Into My Life)."

He's less distinctive when he explores more straightforward feelings, as on the bouncy infatuation romp "Into You" or in "Each Other," an utterly maudlin song for his father (or God, or both). He also has an unfortunate tendency, production-wise, to gild the lily, particularly by adding showers of musical sparkles better suited to a Celine Dion album. Still, this breezy, passionate collection portends greater works and makes a fine soundtrack for a steamy summer fling.

-- Natalie Nichols

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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