Meanwhile, R&B star says he's one song away from wrapping up his fourth studio album
Kem has a holiday album planned for the fall, and may have another present for his fans in 2013. The Detroit R&B singer will release "What Christmas Means" on Oct. 16 via Motown, sporting five originals and five cover songs.
"It's a classic Christmas album, not a contemporary record at all," Kem (ne Owens) tells Billboard.com. "There are songs on there that are merry, but it's not jolly. It's very thoughtful. It's warm. It's romantic. It's sensuous. It has fun moments. I set my expectations really high for this record, because a Christmas record is released every year, theoretically. It makes a statement you can't take back. So I aimed really high and I'm very proud of it; this Christmas album is probably the best music I've recorded to date."
"What Christmas Means" includes a "very intimate" voice-and-guitar version of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" as well as a treatment of "The Christmas Song" that's "not necessarily a traditional" arrangement, according to Kem. On an uptempo "Merry Christmas Baby" he says "all the cats were swinging in the studio live like we just got bonus checks," while he "put a little twist that I think people are going to find interesting" on "Christmas Time is Here."
Kem's originals on the album include a duet with Ledisi called "Be Mine For Christmas" and an a capella doo wop track called "That's What Christmas is All About" that features Ralph Mitchell of the Floaters. He describes "Glorify The King" as "an epic track" with a orchestra arrangements by Motown veteran Paul Reiser.
"This is the type of Christmas record we haven't had from an artist such as myself for a very long time," Kem says. "My hope is it's one of those that kids will look at when they get older and say, 'My parents had this in the house' the same way I grew up with Nat King Cole and Andy Williams in my house."
Kem says he's considering some holiday concerts, possibly with Ledisi, to promote the album, and has a notion to create an annual concert tour, "something where I could have four or five acts and we could all get together and do our Christmas music as well as some of our standout hits and do a show every year. I used to go see Kenny Rogers' Christmas thing; that's something I'd like to be able to have, to establish a tradition in the lives of people during the holidays."
Meanwhile, Kem says his fourth studio album -- the follow-up to 2010's gold-certified "Intimacy: Album III" -- "is written, with the exception of one song." He hopes to start recording it in the fall with an eye on a 2013 release. "People definitely won't have to wait five years for the next album" like they did for "Intimacy," he promises. The singer is also preparing for his third Mack & Third: A Call To Service event, which takes place on August 26 in Detroit to raise awareness of the city's homeless population and also provide it with meals, medical treatment and other assistance. Kem will perform at the event along with Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.
And after a small role in "Sparkle," acting is also on Kem's radar, although he notes that having a "day job" that keeps him busy takes a little pressure off of that pursuit. "('Sparkle') was a great experience, and I look forward to doing more," he says. "My hope is that it put me on the radar of casting directors and producers; at the very least, people are aware I'm seriously interested in pursuing that course. So I'm actively accepting scripts and reading for parts, and I earnestly look forward to doing more."