It’s about time to hear from soul balladeer Kenny Lattimore, but it’s also about “Timeless.” The smooth tenor released the aptly named project this fall, featuring a bevy of classic tune remakes.
While making a great song out of great song may not seem to be a difficult task, it is a daunting. After all, Lattimore’s new offering includes covers of songs of legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and Elton John just to name a few.
“When you have an original that is a classic, it becomes an arrangement project,” Lattimore said of taking on the challenge of the disc. “You go in and say, ‘What is too much? What do we change?’ In some ways, we want to do the songs the way they were and just have me sing, which is what a lot of the singers did back in the day. And then other songs you totally put a different spin on. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what you want to do exactly that still going to give justice to the song so that you can tell the story – because it’s about their lyrics that makes these songs great.”
Lattimore’s “Timeless” hit stores in September and led with his version of the Norman Connors/Michael Henderson ’70s smash “You Are My Starship.” While that is a well known mega-hit across the board, the mixture of styles and artists covered on the disc purposely gives audiences the idea that perhaps it’s a disc of new material.
“We wanted to do songs that made the album feel like it was an original album,” Lattimore revealed. “When people hear the rest of the CD, depending on what genre you listen to or what your age or what you’ve been exposed to, we were hoping that you wouldn’t know all the songs. That tends to happen with most everybody. Even with some of the greatest music connoisseurs; we try to get you with at least one or two of these songs.”
One instance is the Al Green-penned “Something.”
“It’s so soulful and it’s so him, that I couldn’t do it like him,” Lattimore acknowledged. “That’s the one thing you have to know when you’re doing remakes – when you’re in over your head. If you’re going to do something different, that’s OK, too.”
Lattimore explained that the challenge of the disc lay not in simply redoing the songs, but in reinvigorating the lyrics.
“You’re interpreting,” he continued. “It was taking me outside of the normal Kenny and it stretched me – just a little bit. It’s very challenging because you don’t want to get lost in it where you’re just doing a cheap imitation of something, but you want to take from the spirit in which the original artist did it and give it back to the people with equal passion.”
In choosing the songs, Lattimore told EUR’s Lee Bailey that his initial step was to select songs that were in his vocal range. If he felt that the song flowed and was organic to his range, he moved on to the next step, choosing songs he liked, for instance the Otis Redding track “I Love You More Than Words Can Say.”
“I wanted to do songs that were in my vocal range and what I could do justice to in terms of my voice. [‘I Love You …] happens to be one of my father’s favorite songs. I knew I was going to do Otis Redding. I was part of a celebration of his music last year in Macon, Georgia so I said I had to do an Otis Redding song because of the fact that he was so free as an artist. It was like a different experience every time he sang.”
The project originally started out as a celebration of the Memphis sound. The tribute began to grow, however, as Lattimore and the label’s Mitchell Cohen started bouncing around the names and tracks of other artists.
“We were going to do Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and kind of tribute the Memphis sound,” Lattimore said. “I don’t sound anything like them. I don’t have the edge of their raspiness and things like that, so we thought it would be interesting to hear me sing these.”
“Eventually, as we compiled the songs, — all of a sudden there was Elton John, Jeff Buckley, and I knew I wanted to do something from Donny Hathaway, too,” he continued. “It sounded more interesting as we talked about it for us to do a selection of songs than a specific kind of tribute.”
Within a year of the concept, Lattimore was putting the finishing touches on the disc attributing the quick turnaround to the fact that he was doing songs that are already great. Such as the classic “Ain’t No Way” – a song made famous by the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
“Sometimes when you’re singing a woman’s song, it really creates the natural separation and difference so that you don’t feel as pressured. So I thought about that. I loved the melody, I loved the feel of the song – how ‘bout I just sing it,” he said of the challenge. “Strip it down, just play the keyboard, give me a little drum beat, give me the bass – that’s what makes these songs timeless.”
Stripping the songs down to the melody is what Lattimore said was the key to making the project sound great.
“It was about [going] in raw first and singing the song and if it sounds like it’s organic and it feels good then we’ll do the rest of the production over that.”
To check out some of Kenny Lattimore’s raw and reworked tracks or to find out where you can catch him live, visit his website at www.kennylattimore.com.