Keb' Mo'

Concord, 2019


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the elements that has always distinguished Keb’ Mo’s take on contemporary blues—besides the craftsmanlike precision of his songwriting and the instant familiarity of his warm, friendly voice—is the effortless way he moves between individual and social concerns. For every clever relationship song like “France” in the man’s catalogue, there’s an insightful song-with-an-agenda like “Just Like You.” And some of his very best meld the personal with the philosophical, as on the sharp, witty “God Trying to Get Your Attention” and “The Old Me Better.”

Tastefully produced by Colin Linden (The Band, Bruce Cockburn), Oklahoma once again throws all of the above elements together into a rich, hearty stew of deeply American music, with notes of folk and pop and country and blues, this time spiced with a series of notable guest stars. Opener “I Remember You” is pure Keb’, though, with sharply plucked acoustic guitar and looming Hammond organ pulsing steadily through a tune that essays the ways and reasons people leave each other, and the damage they leave behind. The title track then explores Oklahoma’s rich and troubled history, weaving fine details into an energetic tune highlighted by a haunting solo from slide master Robert Randolph.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Third track “Put A Woman In Charge”—as in-your-face anthemic as the mostly easygoing Mo’ ever gets—was originally conceived as a standalone single, before he realized it would fit nicely in the mini-suite of social-concern songs that occupies the heart of this album. “The time has come, we’ve got to turn this world around / Call the mothers, call the daughters, call the sisters of mercy now” he sings as guest Roseanne Cash joins in, gradually turning the song into a full-fledged duet. It’s not exactly subtle, but it definitely gets the point across.

More delicate, more artful, and ultimately more effective is “This Is My Home,” a character-driven acoustic ballad that weaves the stories of individual immigrants into a song about what it means to be a new American today. With accordion and superb harmony vocals from guest Jaci Velasquez adding beauty and pathos, the song wisely focuses on reaching hearts rather than heads. On its heels, “Don’t Throw It Away” puts a playful Delta-blues spin on environmental concerns, with an assist from friend and recent collaborator Taj Mahal.

Leaning to the folk-pop side of Mo’s multifaceted musical persona, the gentle acoustic ballad “The Way I” explores the impact of depression on a relationship. The mood then shifts abruptly as the foot-tapping, finger-snapping acoustic blues “Ridin’ On A Train” pounds down the tracks. The similarly upbeat “I Should’ve” marries bright musical tones with a serious yet clever lyric about second-guessing every decision and wondering if maybe the grass is greener somewhere else.

Rounding the final curve, the traditionalist she-done-me-wrong electric blues “Cold Outside” delivers deep funk in the rhythm section as the cuckolded Mo’ laments “Baby it’s cold outside / But I can’t stay here.” The mood does a one-eighty as Mo’ closes the album out with a grit-free, borderline schmaltzy duet with his wife Robbie Brooks Moore (“Beautiful Music”) that ends in a hail of strings. It might have made a nice valentine, but I’m not too sure what it’s doing on this album.

At this point in his career, a new album from Keb’ Mo’ feels like a visit with an old friend, a chance to slip back into comfortable rhythms and get down quickly to talking about the things that really matter. Oklahoma is full of everything you’ve ever loved about Keb’ Mo’: earthy charm, penetrating insights, and superb guitar playing from a genuine American treasure. It might not be a classic, but Oklahoma fits snugly into Mo’s catalog as a representation of what is on the man’s mind in 2019.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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