Guest Author - Sue Sutherland-Wood
Keb’Mo’is a multi-talented, award-winning musician/songwriter as well as an actor and humantiarian. Mo’ recently got a chance to showcase his skills in the blues inspired John Sayles film, Honeydripper.Keb’plays the strange, apparition of a street musician who accompanies his dialogue with scalding guitar licks.
He’s sort of a Ghost of Christmas Past with ‘tude.
Keb’Mo’ is of course, no stranger to the blues. Even his name – a blues version of his actual name, Kevin Moore – confirms this devotion. When his self titled album came out in 1994 it was well received by critics and fans alike, and included two Robert Johnson covers. A second album Just Like You won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album and another Grammy would follow for his 1998 release Slow Down. Keb’ also portrayed Robert Johnson in the acclaimed documentary Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl?as well as being featured in a segment of the very excellent PBS series The Blues.
As well as jamming with Albert Collins and other blues greats along the way, Kevin honed his blues sound thoughtfully and this culminated in his own unique style which can vary between contemporary and the Delta sound. Whenever I hear him perform a song that is not bluesy, there is something about his delivery which reminds me of Seal – who gave us the soaring Kiss From a Rose back in the nineties.
Because Keb’ plays the blues so flawlessly and with such passion and force, I think that fans often want him to stay firmly entrenched in the twelve bar canon; however, for an artist with such a fully evolved social conscience, (and the ability to succeed with any genre he turns his hand to) I suspect that Mo’ selects whatever style suits him most at any given time. An example of this is the 2004 Peace … Back by Popular Demand which is a series of protest-oriented covers from the sixties and seventies. Keb’does a sultry, must-hear version of John Lennon’s Imagine and I’m sure that many listeners will appreciate the Hint-o-Funk woven into Get Together making it vastly different from the original, but Elvis Costello’s(What’s so funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?should not be tranquilized and as a result, does not work for me at least.
Fast forward to Keb’s 2006 release Suitcase which is much more solidly blues in its sensibilities. Again, there are a few tracks here which are not from the Delta, but happen to be independently amazing. I love I’ll be your Water.The words are simple yet beautiful and the very spare guitar work has almost a lute-like Elizabethan phrasing.Whole Nutha Thang, is just as the title suggests, a straight-up shuffle with clever blues lyrics. No surprises maybe but it smokes just the same! My other fav was the The Itch.Swaying and sensual there is an appealing Santana-ish undercurrent here; perhaps it was inspired by producer/collaborator John Porter who has been associated with the band himself. All in all – this is a great album.
Keb’Mo’s website, incidentally is an unexpected treat. There is an “on-line show” called ‘The Kitchen’ which features Keb’ interviewing various intriguing guests – in his own kitchen – and on episode one, he’s overseeing a friend making rice and beans. Very entertaining, off the cuff dialogue. I especially liked the wry observation that “po’food” is now called “comfort food!” I do notice, sadly, that only two episodes (and also podcasts) seem to be available on the site; however, I am trying to find out if any others are in the works because nothing gets my attention more than food and the blues on the same venue! Keb’ translates on screen as a really sweet man who also happens to look about two decades younger than he is. He also interviews his wife’s “doula” (this is a midwife but a whole lot more just in case you didn’t know) which I personally thought was fabulous—not to mention quite gutsy. Check it out! http://www.kebmo.net