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Keb' Mo': Oklahoma
by George Graham
(Concord Records as broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/3/2019)
The blues takes a lot of different forms, from acoustic Delta blues, to big production numbers with horns and strings, along with various jazz flavors. Probably most prevalent is the electric style inspired by the Chicago blues scene of the 1950s with performers like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, who were the inspiration to countless rock musicians, and gave rise to the British blues scene of the 1960s, which became the backbone of “classic rock.” The electric blues remains popular, but there are notable performers who take the music in somewhat different directions. This week we have the latest album by a veteran artist who has been going his bluesy own way, often acoustically, for decades now, Keb’ Mo’. His new release is called Oklahaoma.
Kevin Roosevelt Moore was born in Southern California to parents who taught him an appreciation for the blues and Gospel. By his teens, he was attracting attention as an accomplished guitarist, though in his first group played steel drums and acoustic bass in a calypso band. After spending a few years playing backup for blues performers, he became a member of the band of blues fiddler Papa John Creach, who played with the Jefferson Starship. Moore played on three of Creach’s albums, and later co-wrote a song that was on the Starship’s hit 1975 album Red Octopus. Around that time, he also took on a job as a staff songwriter at A&M Records, and played in the band of popular bluesman Bobby “Blue” Bland. He released his first album under his given name Kevin Moore in 1980, and in the early 1990s, had a run appearing in a theatrical play, in the musical “Spunk.”
Upon the suggestion of a friend to perhaps increase his “street cred,” Kevin Moore became Keb’ Mo’ and released his first album under that name in 1994. Since then, he has been recording regularly, winning four Grammy Awards in the process.
His last album was a duet record with Taj Mahal called TajMo, released in 2017, which won a Grammy for “best contemporary blues album.”
Now Keb’ Mo’ is out with Oklahoma which continues his combination of acoustic dominated blues, first-rate songwriting and an appealing tasteful sound. The album was produced in Nashville, where Keb Mo lives, by an eclectic Canadian bluesman Colin Linden, who has done outstanding work with various rootsy artists. He is joined by varied cast of characters, with generally different personnel on each song, but with the overall sound being coherent and brimming with Keb Mo’s appealing musical persona. Mo’ most prominently plays acoustic resonator guitar guitars.
As is often the case in Nashville, the songs are all co-writes, with Keb’ Mo’ composing the songs with different combinations of people. And like much of his work, the songs are not typical blues in lyrical directions. They run from wry love songs to social commentaries.
Opening is one called I Remember You which is one of those slightly unconventional love songs, in this case, apparently unrequited love. The sound is reminiscent of the 1960s Memphis blues and soul scene. <<>>
The title track Oklahoma is praise of that state, with an interesting musical setting that shows some Latin influence. <<>>
One of those songs that take on the state of the world is called Put a Woman In Charge which is a full-out woman-power song, sung by a guy, though with some help from special guest Rosanne Cash. <<>>
Another composition with a degree of relevance to the state of the world right now, is This Is My Home, a story of immigrants of the sort that white nationalist politicians are trying to exclude. <<>>
Also relevant to the current day is a song called Don’t Throw It Away, a protest against the pollution by plastics and an appeal for recycling, done in a jaunty almost ragtime setting. <<>>
A contrast to that is a piece titled The Way I, a sad acoustic love song, very nicely done, and showing a different side of Keb’ Mo’. <<>>
A very different way of looking back on a relationship comes on I Should’ve, a rocker with lyrics about how fate has brought a couple of people together, when there were other options. <<>>
The album ends with a track called Beautiful Music, sung as a duet with Keb’ Mo’s wife Robbie Brooks Moore. Compared to the rest of the album the song comes off as a little sappy, especially with the string arrangement. <<>>
Keb’ Mo’s new release Oklahoma is another appealing recording by the Grammy-winning eclectic bluesman. He returns with his winning combination of clever songwriting, acoustic-dominated arrangements and great vocals. He doesn’t really break any new ground on Oklahoma but underscores his position as a versatile blues-based artist whose audiences have extended well beyond the strict blues world.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A,” with the sound clean and punchy, with the acoustic instrumentation assuming a prominent place.
Sixty-seven-year-old Keb Mo continues his long career with an album that combines the qualities that have made his music a winner.
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