He might have missed Valentine's Day by a few, but when Motown recording artist Kem performed at the Berklee Performance Center on Sunday night, love was the point. It was in the lyrics of the Nashville-born, Detroit-based artist; in his incandescent voice; in his easy mannerisms; and in his tender interaction with the audience.
It wasn't the ooh-baby-baby love of so many R&B smoothies, though. Kem sang about the committed love of two people. He talked about the love of community. Above all, he celebrated the love of life and God.
''I'd like to take this opportunity to honor God's presence in my life," he said midway through the performance. ''People take issue with me bringing church into this," he added, cheered along by the audience.
Blessed with a solid voice, Kem has an approach that's assured and unhurried. He didn't force a lyric with vocal theatrics, spinning it out instead by pausing for thought. He softly repeated a sentence until it formed a sensual groove, and his songs generally avoided the me-isms of so much modern R&B. Kem was all about us.
His performance, backed by a seven-piece band, was based equally in jazz, soul, and gospel. He sang with the cultured flair of a Nat King Cole, his phrasing slightly stilted with the soft swing of a Beat-influenced pop-jazz singer. His audience of sophisticated urban-music fans sang along appreciatively when Kem purred through his recent hit single, ''I Can't Stop Loving You," from last year's ''Album II," which followed his breakthrough debut, ''Kemistry."
No, it wasn't that ''I Can't Stop Loving You." This wasn't a mournful song, but a rapturous declaration, without tragedy. Kem doesn't dwell on the dark side. Still, while chatting, he acknowledged pain and ''addictions" in his past. But he doesn't use them as the basis for songs or publicity. He seems to have accepted hardship as a rite of passage.