Darnell Kendricks is proof that following dreams no matter where they lead can be a virtue. Earlier this decade, the native Californian's dream of becoming a recording artist led him to Detroit . That move appears counterintuitive and not just because the recession hit Detroit earlier fand harder than other parts of the nation. Detroiters also know that the musical opportunity train historically runs in the opposite direction. Yet, Kendricks has crafted a solid career as an artist who has a sizeable regional following supported by album releases and airplay on Southeast Michigan airwaves. Kendricks is the kind of artist that was commonplace back in the day when Motown was still a part of the Motor City , but that many people think no longer exists - at least not in the R&B world.
Kendricks no doubt has hopes of becoming more than a regional artist, and that his latest CD, Smooth Soul Cafe, will give national listeners a taste of what makes him a mainstay on the Detroit musical scene. Smooth Jazz Cafe is an enjoyable record that has many of the strengths found in records made by classic soul balladeers. Kendricks' soft tenor is suited for intimate environs such as cafes and dimly lit rooms just for two. The music on Smooth Jazz Cafe is top flight as it masters the Motown formula of brining a jazz sensibility to accessible R&B music. And when Kendricks brings all of those elements together, Smooth Jazz Cafe simmers. Two such examples are the mid-tempo torch song "Please Believe Me" and the ballad "Baby Don't Leave." On both tunes, Kendricks wraps his soft vocals around lyrics that tell stories of desire, regret and fear of losing someone special.
Kendricks uses the well-worn metaphor of the object of ones desire as a tasty treat on the song "After Dinner." That clichÃ© has been done to death, however the give and take between Kendricks and the backing vocals as well as the song's sublime fusion on soul, blues and jazz rescue the song from caricature. The reprise, which features Kendricks scatting over piano and saxophone riffs, is a nice touch. Like many records in this sub-genre, Smooth Soul Cafe pretty much sticks to the topic of affairs of the heart, and while Kendricks shows an ability to shift tempo and pace within songs, he doesn't stray too far from the mid-tempo songs and slow jams that are his stock and trade. It would have been nice to see him belt out a rollicking juke joint number, but Smooth Soul Cafe represents who Kendricks is as an artist, and the record stands as a solid introduction to the world. Recommended.
By Howard Dukes