For KEM's What Christmas Means, the R&B singer wanted to cover several aspects of the season: the birth of Christ, for one, but also Christmas as a "romantic holiday."
"You spend time cuddled up by the fire, warm and cozy with your wife or your husband," KEM tells NPR's David Greene. "You spend more time being intimate with shopping — we're doing things with the kids, we're together. There's a lot of sincerity, a lot of warmth."
The album highlight, "A Christmas Song for You," is "a reflection of love that we cherish during the holidays." But there was a time that KEM was less fortunate: Growing up in Detroit, he was separated from family, living on the streets and addicted to alcohol.
"I'm very grateful that I had that experience," KEM says. "I do not regret my past, nor do I wish to shut my door on it. I learned a lot of valuable lessons. My life has turned around 180 degrees. Had those things not occurred, I don't know that I would enjoy the life that I have today."
Composed of half originals and half standards, What Christmas Means is sure to inspire some cozy fireside cuddling — but also warm memories, as in KEM's take on his "favorite Christmas song ever," the iconic "Christmas Time Is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
"The melody, the vibe of it — it's just a beautiful song," KEM says. "It's one of those songs that I hear and it's like, 'I wish I wrote that.' "
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This holiday season we're listening to all kinds of Christmas music, from pop to Cajun to gospel - some new holiday songs, as well as new takes on old standards. Today we bring you an R&B Christmas and the music of KEM.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS")
KEM: (Singing) I hope you find what Christmas means.
GREENE: The soulful Motown artist's new album is called "What Christmas Means." And KEM came by our Washington, D.C. studios to visit with us.
KEM, thanks for coming by.
KEM: It's my pleasure.
GREENE: What does Christmas mean to you?
KEM: I think that Christmas might be just as romantic, if not more romantic, than Valentine's Day. We spend time cuddled up by the fire. And we spend time being more intimate. We're shopping. We're doing things for the kids. There's a lot of sincerity, a lot of warmth.
GREENE: I'm already getting the image of people out there kind of enjoying the fire, cuddling and listening to your music. So one of the new songs on the album is "A Christmas Song for You."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A CHRISTMAS SONG FOR YOU")
GREENE: So a Christmas song for you. Who is you? Who are you writing this for?
KEM: You know, I am very fortunate to have known good love in my life, and this song is really a reflection of the love that we cherish during the holidays. And this is one of my favorite songs off of the record.
GREENE: You said you feel very fortunate to have had a lot of love in your life. There was, though, a time when you were less fortunate, it sounds like. You grew up in Detroit. You actually were separated from family, living on the street?
KEM: Yeah. I spent a period of my life homeless and addicted to alcohol and drugs. And I'm very grateful that I had that experience. I don't regret my past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it. I learned a lot of valuable lessons. My life has turned around 180 degrees. And had those things not occurred, I don't know that I would enjoy the life that I have today.
GREENE: I want to listen to a Christmas R&B classic that's on the album. It was sung in the past by the likes of Otis Redding and Ray Charles.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY")
GREENE: I see you bopping your head a little bit. Tell me what attracted you to this song.
KEM: I heard someone this sing this song - the Charles Brown version of this song - at a club in Detroit. I'm like, if I do a Christmas record, I think I should incorporate...
GREENE: It's got to be on there.
KEM: ...you know. Yeah. And I'm glad that we did.
GREENE: Charles Brown is an amazing segue to the next song that I want to play. It's probably going to conjure up a lot of happy childhood memories. This is the opening scene of the Charlie Brown Christmas special, when, if I remember it, everyone is skating around the ice rink and everyone's feeling good.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE")
GREENE: And we moved from Charlie Brown into your version of the song right there.
KEM: That was great.
GREENE: Cool sound. Sounded kind of cool. Did you grow up with this song?
KEM: This is my favorite Christmas song ever. You know, I started out trying to learn how to play the piano when I was a toddler. So watching "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown" as a kid and hearing this song, I'm like, what is this music, this jazz music that's playing up under this cartoon? It's the melody, the vibe of it, it's just a beautiful song, you know. It's one of those songs that I hear and it's like, I wish I wrote that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE")
GREENE: KEM, thanks so much for coming by.
KEM: It was my pleasure.
GREENE: That's R&B and Motown artist KEM. His new album is "What Christmas Means." It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.