Kenny Lattimore - A Kenny Lattimore Christmas

Kenny Lattimore
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Soul Christmas albums are something of a rarity these days, so it’s a welcome gift when a revered R&B artist adds his or her name to the list of the select group offering musical holiday cheer. 20 years into a discography marked by quality material and consistent, on-point vocal delivery, Kenny Lattimore serves up a collection simply entitled A Kenny Lattimore Christmas. The no-frills title is indicative of the nature of the content within: straightforward, festive, and time-honored. Comprised of equal parts originals and standards, the CD is indefectible in its proportional brew of upbeat celebrations and warm, slow entries.

Soul Christmas albums are something of a rarity these days, so it’s a welcome gift when a revered R&B artist adds his or her name to the list of the select group offering musical holiday cheer. 20 years into a discography marked by quality material and consistent, on-point vocal delivery, Kenny Lattimore serves up a collection simply entitled A Kenny Lattimore Christmas. The no-frills title is indicative of the nature of the content within: straightforward, festive, and time-honored. Comprised of equal parts originals and standards, the CD is indefectible in its proportional brew of upbeat celebrations and warm, slow entries.

Lattimore’s key accomplishment on Christmas is his skillful execution of style and emotion that at once captures the heart of the holidays while glowing with newness. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has been recorded by countless artists in innumerable styles over the past seven decades; but he injects it with just the right amount of tradition and simplicity to make it comfortingly familiar without lagging melodically. Producer Aaron Lindsey gleans an ideal feeling of calm and authenticity from pianist Leonard Ray Jarman, the horn section, drummer Chaun Horton, and bassist Edwin Carranza. This highlights another chief strength of the album: six of the selections are graced by full rhythm sections, while three others boast orchestration and additional live instrumentation. It’s a very meaningful component that stands in bold contrast to the quick-and-easy, programming-heavy leanings of a handful of Christmas albums from recent years.

Several originals kick off A Kenny Lattimore Christmas, in the form of the head-noddin’, melody-catchin’ “Real Love This Christmas” and the equally funky and engaging “Everybody Love Somebody.” These tunes are nostalgic yet contemporary in their festivity, with the former embodying influence of classic Shalamar and the latter lifting a timeless sentiment of unity with a feel-good, sing-along refrain. In both cases, Lattimore’s supple tenor caressing makes for a notably memorable occasion. “Everybody last minute shoppin’/Gotta get it in, no stoppin’” is a passage (sung on “Real Love This Christmas”) which most of us can relate to on some level, but it’s also well-tempered with spirituality: “Gotta give thanks, ‘cause I’m feelin’ so grateful/He gave me everything, and I’m nothin’ without Him.”

Traditional or modern, A Kenny Lattimore Christmas is not strictly an R&B affair. Inviting African rhythms and arrangements imbue the uplifting “Reason to Celebrate,” seven and a half minutes of happiness on which Lattimore exhibits his ease going beyond the roles of balladeer and smooth-groove purveyor. His enthusiasm here is inherent and affirmative, bolstered further by a rousing background chorus. Then there’s the church-infused “We Want to See You,” slow in pace but ultimately fiery in feeling. Again, the backing vocalists add a distinguished fervor to the proceedings, as he gradually builds from contemplative and understated to passionate and full-bodied: “I’m forever changed, past has been erased/All things are new in the power of your present.” Arthur Strong’s B3 embellishments and Lindsey’s piano foundation are also essential elements of this most impactful moment.

A lovely acoustic rendition of “The Christmas Song” closes out the CD. Backed by classical guitar and intermittent keyboard layerings, Lattimore gives a pure and gentle reading of the lyrics, peppering his performance with just a few low-key ad-libs to make it a standout cut.

From the cheery, rhythmic start of the album to this unaffected, peaceful final selection, A Kenny Lattimore Christmas is characterized by the qualities we all strive for during this special time of year: joy, excitement, and peace. The musicality with which he relates each emotion is what makes the album not just another holiday collection, but a choice seasonal set that will provide enjoyment and warmth for years to come. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor
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