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Review: Kem at the Landmark Theater

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When it comes to music, people don't always know what they like, but they like what they know. Making his second appearance here in six months, Richmond knows Kem. The smooth jazz vocalist owned the crowd from the moment he stepped onstage in a silky white suit.

Kem was joined by a seven-piece band, but his voice quickly proved to be the most powerful instrument in the house. He opened with "You'll Never Know," and then went into an extended version of "Get Lifted," from his second release, "Album II." While not nearly as funky as KC & The Sunshine Band's similarly-titled '70s classic, the music led Kem to come from behind the piano and gyrate a little bit, which was more than enough to excite the ladies in the Valentine's Day audience.

"I need a Valentine tonight," Kem says, after removing his jacket.

Not afraid to engage the audience, the Motown recording artist talked about his faith at length, sounding like a polished evangelist. His religious remarks were often preceded by romantic overtures, a intriguing mix that can be found in his songs also. Fittingly, a gentleman in the audience interrupted the first verses of "Heaven," a romantic ballad with spiritual overtones, to share his testimony with the Landmark Theater.

"I'ma get some tonight!" he yelled.

Kem attempted to continue the song, but he eventually succumbed to laughter and finally offered a response.

"I'm glad I could be helpful to you," he says.

The evening continued and Kem never let up with his smooth R&B/jazz sound. Even when he stopped to talk about his music career and his life before it, the audience remained rapt and attentive. He discussed his phenomenal success as an artist, but refused credit for it.

"God is running my life," he says. "I just show up."

There is someone else Kem also owes a great debt to: Jazz vocalist Al Jarreau. Kem's voice, as commanding and brilliant as it is, so closely models the seven-time Grammy winner's sound, right down to the scatting, that it's almost a copyright violation. The singer's vocal machinations are about as creative as his album titles and offer nothing too new. Unless, of course, you've never heard of Al Jarreau.

Kem closed with his hit "Love Calls," and many of the crowd had begun to leave the Landmark Theater when he returned to the stage. Richmond, don't we know how these things work? Kem performed a promising new ballad, "Share My Life," from his next project and closed with a cover of Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much." For the crowd, it certainly wasn't.

That was the second time Vandross' ghost was conjured up. Opening act Eric Nettle also covered a Luther classic, "A House Is Not a Home," earlier in the evening.

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