Kem

Love Always Wins

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Love Always Wins Review

by Andy Kellman

Never one to rush out new material, and established enough to remain untroubled by the possibility of diminishing relevance, Kem took a few years off after he released Promise to Love in 2014. Still with Motown, he returns with a reliably mellow, romantic, and gently uplifting album that embraces his role in adult contemporary R&B and at the same time more openly displays his inspirations and stretches out. The singer switches it up a little by working closely with Derek "DOA" Allen, a veteran musician and fellow songwriter/producer whose mark has been left on albums by contemporaries such as Tyrese, Angie Stone, and Joe, as well as Brian Culbertson, whose lively piano supports "Lonely." As a consequence, Love Always Wins is more scuffed and groove-oriented than any previous Kem album. Whether Kem is testifying with a gospel choir in "Love," bobbing his head as he does his best Marvin Gaye falsetto on "Love," or crooning over acoustic and pedal steel guitars and a twitchy Timbaland-like rhythm for "Not Before You," nothing sounds truly out of character. Given the social climate and Kem's life experience, it's no surprise that his message songs and love ballads carry more currency than ever. Best of all is "Lie to Me," a breezy, feel-good number that unmistakably evokes mid-'70s Earth, Wind & Fire (with writing help from an all-star team of Salaam Remi, Anthony Hamilton, and James Poyser). Just beneath it are "Live Out Your Love," another Marvin-inspired moment (more in the I Want You mode), and the gospel blues title track. Bonus alternate versions of those two songs appear at the end and respectively add Toni Braxton and Erica Campbell, co-stars as considered as any other artistic choice made here.

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