“I sing because I love it and I make albums because I enjoy recording.”
Re-introducing Kenny Lattimore.
With his sixth album fresh out of the studio and plans already underway for album number seven, he’s no newcomer to the music world; yet the soulful R&B crooner remains an enigma. Read on as Rachelle Hull delves into the history of a man daring enough to release an album of “the way songs used to be made” in an age when auto-tune blurs the lines between singers and those who wish they could.
As a teenager, the Washington DC native was part of the 1980s all-male group Maniquin. Despite releasing just one album the vocal talents of Kenny set him apart, leading to a steady solo career. Five albums later (Kenny Lattimore, Soul Of Man, Weekend) – including two duet albums with beautiful wife and chanteuse Chanté Moore (Things That Lovers Do, Uncovered/Covered) – he is back with his sixth studio release, Timeless; a collection of classic songs reinterpreted the Lattimore way.
Yet the journey from Maniquin to Timeless has not always been smooth. Having been in the business for over two decades and changed labels, he has experienced his fair share of setbacks. “At Columbia [Records] I think they decided they didn’t want to promote adult music anymore…” he muses. “So they let me go.”
“When you go to a different label and they don’t know who you are they begin to redefine you and make you into something that you’re not. I did the Weekend album [with Arista Records] and have no regrets, but they wanted me to be a younger artist than I was.” The backlash? “My lyrical content. It didn’t come from me and my audience knew it didn’t come from me.”
Sitting on a leather sofa at the Sheraton Hill Hotel in Philadelphia, the singer is in town to promote his Timeless Promise tour with songstress Deborah Cox. Looking relaxed and much younger than his 39 years he is candid on how his experiences in the industry have shaped him; “I’m less inhibited as a person and less critical of myself. Music has taught me about who I am and to be strong and confident in who I am.”
Now settled at Verve, a label known for high-end artists like Herbie Hancock and Diana Krall, Lattimore is re-housed, refreshed and ready for the next phase of his career. “We’re in an era where technology is so great…” he begins. “It’s the era of the people who want to be singers that aren’t really singers, or who want to be musicians and aren’t really musicians.”
“Conceptually, [Timeless] is about the way songs used to be made, with live instruments and live intimate performances.” Producing this slice of vintage re-tweaked is legendary producer and songwriter Barry Eastmond. Having worked together previously the union made perfect sense; “Barry knew Kenny; he knew how to capture my voice and allow me to sing. He’s a great person and from a creative standpoint he did a wonderful job.”
Unafraid to experiment, Kenny’s tribute album is a little different from most. He tells me, “It was a great opportunity to do songs that I’ve always wanted to do and I thought it would be more interesting to mix things up – to expose the R&B world to songs they may not have heard before, from artists like The Beatles, Elton John and Jeff Buckley.” Of which the latter has the softly-spoken tenor singing in falsetto, resulting in a beautiful soul ballad for the grown and sexy.
Though the genre of soul has always been about the music (surviving the synth takeover and more recently auto-tune), the image of an artist remains important. With the bad boys of soul (think D’Angelo) and the free-spirited bachelors (think Maxwell, Bilal) taken care of; Kenny is successfully carrying the torch for the God-fearing, devoted husband. “In this society a lot of people say marriage is ‘just a piece of paper.’ But it’s not just about living together,” he comments, “it’s a spiritual covenant that two people are making before witnesses and God – and for it to work it’s a continual sacrifice. Working on the duets with Chante was a lot of fun and the best thing, because most celebrated people end up in two different worlds where they don’t cultivate a good foundation for their marriage.”
So can we expect a third installment from the happy couple? I’m assured there will be. Laughing, he quickly adds, “What was difficult were people no longer seeing us as individuals. Which is funny because when you’re married you want to become one; but in business we’re not an act.”
Being the father of a son and stepdaughter has had a profound effect on Kenny’s career and he does not dismiss what he does in public as completely separate from his private life. There are no alter-egos here. “It’s powerful being a parent,’ he muses. ‘I look at my son and I see myself. There are so many interesting comparisons to my walk with my Father spiritually and my son’s walk with me naturally. I play a huge role in how whole my daughter will be, by my loving her and being in her life so I have to be responsible. I want to leave them a legacy where they can be proud of what I’ve done.”
Speaking of leaving legacies, Lattimore is already a step ahead and planning his next project – “An original CD that says where I am musically, right now. I’m really looking forward to it, but believe me I wasn’t for a long time because of the disappointments of the music industry.” Pausing for a second he continues, “But I can’t measure the greatness of my songs by how much airplay they received or how many people bought them. This is my gift; this is what I come with.”
Timeless is out now on Verve.