Music Review: Keb’ Mo’
Keb’ Mo’ is a singer-songwriter born and raised in South Central L.A., but unlike most famous recording artists from that corner of the world, he’s a blues musician. And a pretty good one too.
Heavily influenced by the likes of Robert Johnson – he covers two of the blues king’s songs on his first album – Keb’ Mo’ is thoroughly unpretentious and thrives on the delta blues style of guitar, using a slide to add texture to his sound. The guitar playing is impressive but not ostentatious; there’s never the feeling that his fretwork is deliberately complex and Mo’ simply seems to play what he thinks will sound the best, whether an offbeat blues riff, like Am I Wrong from Keb’ Mo’, or soaring single notes as in I’m A Hero from Suitcase.
Moore’s vocals at points are typical of the blues genre, emotional and passionate, but his is a distinctive and powerful voice which suits his slow, lonesome numbers as well as his funkier blues tracks. His tenor can be quiet and contemplative, as on tracks like the superb City Boy and the more poignant I’ll Be Your Water; or charged with the blues blood that courses through his toe-tapping faster songs.
He doesn’t try and overpower you with pretentious lyrics either, instead letting the music tell the story much of the time, although there are some clever lyrical touches – Remain Silent from Suitcase stands out as the best of these – on occasion. But passion and fire are more important than vocal poetry in this genre, and Keb’ Mo’s songs are fuelled by the classic themes of the style: nomadic movement – Suitcase – anguished breakups – Rita – and struggles against poverty – Every Morning.
Keb’ Mo’ has been on the scene since 1993, releasing many an album along the way, but his best two are his debut Keb’ Mo’ and his most recent record Suitcase. Not only do these two provide nice bookends his career thus far, but they also show that the blues is still alive and well. Despite it not having the mainstream cachet it once did, when the blues is done well, it’s still one of the most emotional, enthralling and evocative styles of music to listen to, and Keb’ Mo’ is still pleading its case brilliantly.
Best tracks: City Boy, Every Morning and Victims of Comfort from Keb’ Mo’, Remain Silent and I’m A Hero from Suitcase.
If you like this, you’ll also like: Dog House Music – Seasick Steve, Where The Light Is – John Mayer, The Complete Recordings – Robert Johnson.
Luke Grundy is a fervent assimilator of media living amid the bright lights of London, England. If he’s not watching films or listening to music, he’s probably asleep, eating or dead. An aspiring writer, journalist and musician, he is the creator of movie/music blog Odessa & Tucson and lives for epistemology.