Keep It Simple

Keb' Mo'

Epic/Okeh, 2004

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


To me, music is the ultimate mood-enhancing drug. Not that I advocate the use of other ones; I just happen to enjoy this one a lot. For one thing, the only real danger it poses is to your bank balance, although -- as my long-suffering spouse can attest -- it is rather addictive.

You have to balance that risk factor against the medicinal benefits, which are great. For example, when I'm in one of those slightly frayed states, a little overstimulated by the day's travails, a dose of Keb' Mo's contemporary acoustic country-blues elixir provides an instant cure, the musical equivalent of a drink and a massage.

I enjoyed Keb' Mo's first, self-titled disc and loved the two that followed, 1996's Just Like You and 1998's Slow Down. For whatever reason, 2000's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Door has never completely clicked with me, nor 2001's Big Wide Grin -- they just didn't seem to have quite the same artistic zing to them. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Keep It Simple, hoping for greatness, but willing to settle for less.

No need to have worried. On his sixth album, the modern-day troubadour born Kevin Moore delivers another disc full of beautifully positive blues -- simple, direct, emotionally true messages of perseverance and hope. Indeed, Keep It Simple stands tall among his best work.

Whether it's a sassy story-song like "France," a clever inversion of traditional form like "Prosperity Blues," or a plain-spoken message like the self-affirming "I'm Amazing," Keb' Mo' hits all the right notes with both music and lyrics. The arrangements are generally simple -- Keb's acoustic guitar, bass, drums and some understated organ and/or percussion for texture -- but are filled out nicely with the occasional harmonica , mandolin or dobro. On the steamy B.B. King tribute "Riley B. King," guests Robert Cray and Robben Ford provide the requisite electric licks.

In terms of arrangements, then, Keep It Simple lives up to its name. The magic of Keb' Mo's music, though, is that he manages to invest these relatively spare arrangements with tremendous resonance by virtue of his superb lyrics and heartfelt delivery. The basic arrangement of "Closer" feels simple on the surface, but the gradual build of the music and increasing urgency of Mo's delivery makes every note feel important. And few artists in any genre could write a song as carefully observed and full of emotional shadings as the brilliant "Proving You Wrong." "I'm just a lonely winner / With nothing left to lose" sings the narrator, who's won the argument and lost the woman he loves. It's a terrific character sketch that makes you sympathize with a substantially unsympathetic character.

Just as every note Keb' Mo' sings in his earthy, ageless voice suggests, I had nothing to worry about. Keep It Simple is another warm, funky, sometimes funny and sometimes earnest journey down a dusty road with one of the modern blues era's most engaging voices.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic/Okeh, and is used for informational purposes only.