Kenny Lattimore's certified-gold, critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated self-titled 1996 debut album heralded the arrival of a thoughtful and reflective singer-songwriter whose obsession with classic R&B artistry was offset by a sensuous mix of old school instruments and modern percussion sounds. Now with the release of his second Columbia Records album, From The Soul Of Man, the singer/songwriter/producer reveals even more about himself, men and their relationships with women. As its title suggests, From The Soul Of Man is a timely exploration of the male psyche, as sung by a man struggling with issues of faith, hope, and love. "If I had to sum up what this record is about," Kenny relates, "it's about courage--the courage to be able to fall in love, or be able to say, 'this is not gonna work out, so let's be cool.'"
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Filled with powerful emotion and passionate delivery, From The Soul Of Man (written and produced by Kenny along with Barry Eastmond, Daryl Simmons, Diane Warren, Kipper Jones and Vidal Davis from Touch of Jazz) is first and foremost a testament to the tremendous vision of Kenny Lattimore. Both fans and purists will appreciate the album's mature themes, not to mention its total lack of pop pretension. From The Soul Of Man features 12 tracks ranging from simmering funk jams ("Destiny," "Days Like This") to soulful ballads ("Heaven and Earth," "Tomorrow") to smoky, wee-hour blues (Kenny's show-stopping interpretation of Donny Hathaway's "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know"). Other album highlights include Kenny's soulful interpretation of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," a show stopping tour de force from his live performances, and "Love Will Find A Way," a duet from Disney's "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride" which Kenny recorded with Heather Headley (who appears in "The Lion King" on Broadway). "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride," a video premiere from Disney, will be in-stores October 27; the soundtrack will be available September 29. "Love Will Find A Way" can be heard over the film's closing credits and is a bonus track on From The Soul Of Man. All in all, From The Soul Of Man provides a revealing glimpse into the heart and soul of a constantly evolving artist.
"With this album I am still singing about love, but I'm also attempting to go beyond the obvious," says Kenny. "Though men might feel like I'm lifting the lid off some secrets, I think that the women who listen to the album will feel that I've given them some insight, not only into their men or lovers, but also their fathers and brothers."
It's that need to "go beyond the obvious" that has helped separate Kenny Lattimore from the contemporary R&B pack. The singer's self-titled debut album--remaining on Billboard's R&B chart for well over a year--garnered an RIAA gold record certification, generated the hit single, "For You" (which remained on the Billboard Monitor singles chart for 17 straight weeks) and earned Kenny a "Best Male R&B Vocal Performance" Grammy nomination for the single. "For You" was heralded as the wedding anthem of the year, became Billboard's #15 R&B single of '97; the song's purist approach to soul music placed Kenny in the new elite group of R&B artists.
Kenny was similarly popular with the critics. In its rave review of his debut album, Entertainment Weekly invoked the name of Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway. To wit: "Back when R&B had more soul...artists like Kenny Lattimore were commonplace. But alas, in the post-soul '90s it's a rare artist that debuts with such a precise, old-school influenced talent ... you can hear the history of soul between every 'aaah,' 'oooh,' and satisfying 'yeah.'"
Now, with the release of From The Soul Of Man, Kenny once again pays homage to his R&B forebears while examining the complexities of modern romance. The album is dedicated to the loving memory of Kenny's late mother, who managed the singer's career early on. "I consider my relationship with my mother to be the beginning of my understanding of women," Kenny says. "She expressed to me the importance of communication in any relationship, be it professional or romantic. So in a sense, this record could also be considered an exploration of women, as well as men."
Indeed, both men and women will relate to the album's inquiring, truth-seeking spirit. And though many of the songs find Kenny grappling with fears and doubt, From The Soul Of Man is ultimately a positive album. Rather than offer up preachy cliches and admonitions, Kenny instead sings of his own spiritual experience. On "Well Done" he envisions a rapturous meeting with the Almighty: "when I see you face-to-face/I want to hear you say, 'well done.'"
That same spirituality is evident on the album's more secular songs. Ballads like the Diane Warren-penned "All My Tomorrows," co-produced by Kenny, and "Heaven and Earth" rank as some of the most intense expressions of devotion ever recorded. ("I'd move heaven and earth, the moon and the sky...to be with you," Kenny croons on "Heaven and Earth"). On the funky and foreboding "Days Like This," Kenny sings candidly of the fear that prompts some men to sabotage good relationships. "Sometimes, we tend to take things out on our ladies," Kenny says. "But on this song he's saying, 'even though we have bad days like this, I don't want to forget everything we've shared and throw everything away.'"
Where tracks like "Days Like This" and "Heaven and Earth" are sung from the perspective of a man deep in the throes of love, other songs focus on the imaginary side of romance. Such is the case with "Destiny," a jazz-funk jam that opens with the primal patter of African percussion before slowly morphing into a song about the search for love, and the illusion of perfection. Says Kenny: "In the soul of everyone, there's this desire to be completed by another person, and that's what the song is about...this fantasy person. I think that it's something every man is going to go through."
Rounding out this breathtaking album is an interpretation of Donny Hathaway's confessional blues ballad, "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know." According to Kenny: "When I listened to Donny as a child, I might not have understood all that he was communicating verbally, but I was moved emotionally by the feeling he would put into a song. I've known in my heart for years that I wanted to cover one of his songs, I just wanted to make sure I was prepared to do it right."
Kenny Lattimore's musical journey began in Washington, D.C., where he was raised on a musical diet of R&B, funk, gospel and jazz. Chaka Khan, whom Kenny met when he was just 8 years-old, was a major influence as were Earth, Wind & Fire, Aretha Franklin and The Winans Family gospel group.
Music eventually became an obsession. Kenny studied classical and chamber music in high school, and also learned to sight-read music. Soon after enrolling at Washington's renowned Howard University, he joined a fledgling vocal group called Maniquin. The band landed a major label deal in 1987, but their 1989 debut LP was met with public indifference. However, the experience resulted in countless one-night stand performances which allowed Kenny to cultivate his remarkable stage abilities.
When Kenny finally left the band in 1990, he possessed the skills to pursue a solo singing career. Towards that goal, he left the cozy confines of his Washington, D.C., home and relocated to New York City. "It was a big move for me, but I had to do it," Kenny recalls. "I'd come to grips with the fact that I didn't want to be a part of anyone's group or situation, I wanted to be a solo artist. So that's what I worked toward."
Kenny signed with Columbia Records in 1995, and his debut album was greeted enthusiastically by a public starving for intelligent R&B and funk. Though the album won critical accolades and a Grammy nomination, Kenny didn't rest on his laurels. In concert he displayed a jazzman's penchant for spontaneity and improvisation. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted in a concert review: "Lattimore jumped from octave to octave with his scatting, switching to a more melodic idea only after exhausting the rhythmic possibilities."
In 1997, Kenny displayed his interpretative gifts by teaming with smooth jazz guitarist Peter White, performing a cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" (the resulting track is featured on White's holiday album, Songs of the Season). Kenny's matinee idol good looks made him a reluctant sex symbol, and led to an appearance on the nationally syndicated TV program, "Moesha."
But listeners who focus solely on Kenny's sexy persona do themselves a disservice. Kenny is a musical prophet whose spirit is in full bloom on From The Soul Of Man. With his astounding new album, Kenny Lattimore courageously embraces and extends the best R&B conventions to create a stylish masterwork all his own.
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