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April 2004

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Keb' Mo
Keep It Simple


Keb Mo

Having just almost as much star power in the non-blues market is Keb’ Mo’, whose latest, Keep It Simple, should also bring record buyers to turn a fresh ear to the “new thing” called the blues. The 12 tracks on this CD have all been written or co-written by Keb’ Mo’, and the overall result is probably his best record since his very first one.

Produced by the singer-guitarist himself, it is relatively free of the overproduced feel of his recent releases; the emphasis is clearly on the beauty of stringed instruments (mostly acoustic guitar, but also mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, violin and dobro), and the sound is absolutely gorgeous.

Highlights include the gently swaying gospel of “Let Your Light Shine,” the only decidedly electric track, “Riley B. King” (with guests Robert Cray and Robben Ford providing the action), the jazzy “Prosperity Blues,” which has a neat twist at the very end, and the jaunty “Closer,” which somehow reminds me of some half-forgotten lullaby.

The record as a whole has a classy vibe – a far cry from Delta blues, to be sure. The players (including Keb’ Mo’ himself, who has never played better, but also bassists Reggie McBride and Nathan East, Jeff Paris on keyboard and harmonica, etc.) have so much talent that you cannot but be drawn into the music.

I have some personal problems – hell, call me jealous! – with Keb’ Mo’s persona (how can anyone always be so positive, cheerful, confident, with no trace of a dark side?). I think some of his subject matters are futile (the confusion brought on by the multiplication of choices on TV and in coffee bars, anyone?), but I’ll grant him that: no one else even tries to make tasteful, adult music (think AAA-radio, here) with so much grounding in the blues, and very few singers can muster such charm and effortless grace these days. If Norah Jones was a black man, she’d probably sing just like Keb’ Mo’ (and yes, I believe that the millions of customers who bought Ms. Jones’ first record will enjoy this CD…).

--- Benoît Brière

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