Album Review: Tondrae Kemp - Sun Money

An Underrated Gem
By Mark Edward Nero, R&B/Soul Guide 

Don't feel bad if the name Tondrae Kemp isn't already familiar to you. Because despite being a very talented artist with numerous solo albums to his credit, he's one of those artists who flies under the mainstream radar. But on his latest album, Sun Money, Tondrae doesn't spend time complaining about how he's underrated or hopping on music trends in order to churn out a mainstream hit or two. No, instead this New Orleans native who now lives in New York he does what he's been doing his whole professional career: make fresh and modern bluesy Soul songs that you not only hear with your ears, but absorb with your mind and feel with your heart. Sun Money, which was released in the U.S. Sept. 19, 2012 by Kwality Records, is one of the true underrated gems of 2012.

Old-school Formula 

Sometimes it seems like fate likes to play cruel jokes on music fans and the music industry. After all, how many times over the years has a singer with a razor-thin voice and a plastic personality managed to become a star of the industry, while artists who are 10 times more talented toil away, relatively unknown to the mainstream and underappreciated by the underground? Well, Tondrae Kemp is one of those underappreciated artists. But on Sun Money -- which is actually his third album, after 2009's Cool Landlord: Songs From the Room and 2005's Still Searching -- Tondrae proves the old adage that popularity doesn't equal quality is absolutely correct. The album isn't likely to take the U.S. by storm because it goes against the grain of what it considered hit-worthy or radio-friendly in today's R&B/Soul world. That's because instead of cold, computerized beats, heavily synthesized vocals and trendy producers, Sun Money relies on the old school formula of raw, untouched vocals, live and real instruments and a focus on the artist rather than the person producing the track. But although the album bucks many contemporary trends, that's not to say that it's stuck in the past or has a dated sound. In fact, the album's stylish sophistication is thoroughly modern, it's just not the type of style urban music fans are used to having shoved down their throats. Example A is perhaps the album's best tune, "Say If You Want Me to Go," a relationship tune that slickly and deftly merges funk and hip-hop.

Strong, Charismatic

Although he does engage in some vibrant commentary from time to time here (particularly on "Gangsta Americano" and the reggae-tinged "Babylons Fall Down"), that's not to say the whole album's politically charged. In fact, two of the better songs on Sun Money, "Baby Girl" and "Happiness (I Put the Blame on You)" are both narratives about personal relationships. "Baby Girl," which is the album's opening track, is a reggae-tinged ode to a lost love: "I've been all around the world, still can't get over Baby Girl, In my heart burns a flame, does her heart burn the same? ... I've been longing to kiss her and have her back in the picture." And on the bluesy "Happiness," Tondrae isn't just mourning a former lover, he's actively seeking her out: "I been looking for your ass, you been absentee, And I ain't the only one trying to find ya, you've been avoiding me," he sings. "Put the word out on the streets, worldwide APB, you're missing in action, I'm missing satisfaction 'til you come and see me." With all its good points -- strong, charismatic singing, solid instrumentation, good creativity and originality -- Sun Money isn't a perfect album. Some of the latter songs don't really mesh together well, particularly because the vocals don't carry as much swagger or self-assuredness as the early tracks. But overall, this is a release that's right up there with anything you'll hear from most adult contemporary R&B/Soul artists signed to major labels. Tondrae Kemp might not quite be the modern equivalent of a Curtis Mayfield or Donny Hathaway, but he just might be the closest that any modern artist has come.

via / R&B Soul Guide