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Album Review: Kem - 'What Christmas Means'

A Loving Tribute

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Album Review: Kem - 'What Christmas Means'
There are typically two types of holiday albums: secular and spiritual. The secular kind typically ignores the spiritual aspects of the holiday in favor of all-around good cheer, and is exemplified by singalong jams like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty the Snowman." Spiritual albums, on the other hand, embrace the original meaning behind the holiday and usually consist of remakes of such spiritual songs as "Joy to the World," "Silent Night" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." What Christmas Means, which was released in the U.S. Oct. 16, 2012 and is the first Christmas album by Detroit-based R&B singer Kem, definitely leans more toward the spiritual category; it's a collection of new and classic holiday-themed tunes that has its share of secular songs, but for the most part pays loving tribute to the true meaning of the holiday season.

Spiritual Leanings

If there's anyone who should be able to truly appreciate the real meaning of the holiday season, it's Kem. For those unaware, he grew up a music fan Detroit and eventually wound up struggling with drug and alcohol addiction after he left home in his late teens. He was actually homeless for a period of time and bounced around from place to place before ending up at a downtown Detroit shelter. Things got worse after he was kicked out of the shelter and wound up sleeping outside on the streets. After falling as low as he could, he reached out and turned to God. After becoming a member of a church in the Detroit suburbs in the early 1990s, began to play music with his friends and eventually managed to launch a successful career as an R&B/jazz vocalist. Despite his success however, he's never forgotten or turned his back on his past, and each year he puts on a free concert to help Detroit's homeless.
And the spiritual leanings he's developed over the years are quite evident throughout What Christmas Means, beginning with the opening track, "Glorify the King." The orchestral "Glorify" is one of a handful of original songs on the album and is maybe the most spiritual, particularly with lyrics that praise Jesus Christ: "Because you gave your life for me, I will worship you with every breath I take," he sings. "The more I pray, the more I love Christmas Day, And this is why I say I will glorify the king."

Smooth & Tender

Kem also gets deep on the album's title track, where he delicately croons about how the Christmas holiday is a time for remembering the holiday's origin and meaning. "Who would rise so all the world could see his holiness in you and me?," he sings. "Who would rise, truly thankful to be all the love you'll ever need?" A couple of other original tunes highlight the album, a fantastically unique track called "Doo Wop Christmas (That's What Christmas is All About)" that closes the album and a warmly romantic duet with Ledisi titled "Be Mine For Christmas."
If Kem was aiming for an old-school, Nat King Cole-type of vibe with this album, he definitely succeeded. This is a classic-sounding Christmas album that's appropriate for the entire family, but would be equally enjoyable listen to during a romantic evening with that special someone. The album's not just split between spiritual and secular tunes, but also between remakes and original songs (there are five of each). The overarching theme however, manages to keep the album from veering off into too many different musical directions, and the album as a whole, is a smooth and tender tribute to the joys of the holiday season.
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