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February 2022

Keb' Mo'
Good To Be ...
Rounder

Keb Mo

It doesn't seem that long ago that the artist known at Keb' Mo' burst on the scene with his exciting self-titled album, but it was almost 30 years ago that this fantastic set of tunes introduced Kevin Moore's alter ego to not just the blues world but to the music scene in general. He's now gracefully aged into senior statesmen status, with his music evolving into an amalgamation of many styles of music. Keb' Mo' has not been hesitant to incorporate different sounds and styles into his music, be it country, Caribbean, gospel, or whatever fits the songs that he's recorded on more than a dozen albums. Perhaps he gave signs of the type of artist he'd evolve into with his seldom-heard 1980 album, Rainmaker, which has subsequently gotten mixed reviews from fans used to hear his more traditional blues numbers.

Good To Be .. was co-produced by a number of big names in the industry, including Tom Hambridge and country superstar Vince Gill, and their influence in the music shows with the diversity that has become standard with Keb' Mo' albums. It's not straight blues ... quite frankly, Keb' Mo' hasn't limited himself over the years, and that's a good thing. I like to think that we've all evolved as fans of the blues to accept varied interpretations of the music. Good To Be ... also turns around the idea that blues music has to be sad, as many of Keb' Mo's songs have a positive and uplifting message, an attitude that we all need more of right now considering the crazy world we're all living in.

That positive vibe comes out right away on the title cut, "Good To Be (Home Again," as Moore re-visits the old homestead, one that he's described as the title track to his life. The country influences come in with the sound of pedal steel of Paul Franklin around Moore's gentle acoustic guitar and nice organ accompaniment from Gordon Mote. "So Easy" is another uplifting, soulful song as he sings how much he loves the woman in his life, with a real gospel feel to the number from Jimmy Nichols' organ accompaniment and the chorus of female background singers. It's wonderful.

Mix yourself a drink with a little paper umbrella sticking out from the glass and then close your eyes when listening to "Sunny and Warm," and its Caribbean rhythms will make you feel the warmth of the sun and the smell of the gentle ocean breezes. Darius Rucker joins Moore on vocals for "Good Strong Woman," a tribute to having the right kind of woman who will have your back. The pedal steel gives this song a country sound, but also we hear a little gospel influence throughout. "The Medicine Man" takes us back to the early days of Delta blues, when blues and country were more closely connected. The Nashville ensemble Old Crow Medicine Show join in with with fiddle and backing vocals as Moore tries to put a more positive spin on the COVID crisis. Nice harmonica breaks, too.

Pianist Steve Dorff opens the slow, gospel-sounding "Marvelous To Me," another inspirational number with Moore singing about the optimism from all that is so sorely needed today. This one mixes in plenty of strings and horns, and then later a strong blues guitar solo from Christone "Kingfish" Ingram. But it's really Moore's strong voice that makes "Marvelous To Me" a gem. Quite a few artists are covering Bill Withers songs during this decade, and that's a good thing. Moore gives the classic "Lean On Me" a Caribbean feel, with organ accompaniment taking it at least a few rows into the church. (This rendition reminded me that I just don't have enough of Withers' original music in my collection, so before I finished this review a collection of his recordings was already on the way to my mailbox).

Moore maintains that Caribbean sound on "Like Love," with organ accompaniment and a steady, gently driving beat as he sings about all of the feelings that come with being in love. Looking for more of a late-night blues sound? Moore gives it to us in a big way with the fantastic "All Dressed Up," singing painful lines like, "...I'm a fool and I know it, because I'm still in love with you, I'm just sitting here, all dressed up in blue..." Tasteful jazzy blues guitar from Moore, piano from Phil Madeira, organ from Michael Hicks, and horns all combine to frame the pain in his voice as he sings about the woman that he's lost. It's my favorite song here and my nomination for blues song of the year.

Most of us have some memory of our favorite car of the past (mine is my dad's '69 Barracuda that was the first car I learned to drive), and Moore tells his favorite ride on the Gill-produced "'62 Chevy, perhaps telling us what was really the true love of his life. It's a mid-tempo blues with just a touch of pedal steel coming in behind Moore's stinging blues guitar licks.

"Louder" is Moore's call to action for the younger generations to come together to make a better world, signing, "...It's going to be get louder, it's about to get real .." Very fine piano work on this song. "So Good To Me" is another uplifting song about the woman who has treated Moore so well, a mid-tempo blues with a hint of the Caribbean. It's a catchy tune that stays with you.

Closing the album is "Quiet Moments," a slow, subtle song that could have gotten a bit too schamaltzy if not for Moore's powerful voice, coupled with harmony vocals from noted singer/actor Kristin Chenoweth, perhaps best known for her recurring role on the TV smash hit, "The West Wing," from a couple of decades ago.

I can safely say that Keb' Mo' has done it again with Good To Be ..., and urge everyone to give it a listen with an open mind. You will likely come away with a more positive outlook on life and be able to listen to the blues with a different mindset.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

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