Keb' Mo' (a/k/a Kevin Moore) pursues a unique musical vision that uses the Mississippi Delta blues as a jumping off point, and over the past 15 years and eight albums Mo' has refined his sound to include elements of rock, folk, and jazz music while lyrically he brings a singer/songwriter's sensibilities and acumen to his intelligent wordplay.
A mesmerizing onstage performer, Mo's fans have waited a long time for a live album to satisfy their cravings. A mix of six live and four new studio tracks, Live & Mo' may only partially satiate the hordes of Keb' Mo' fans...but they have to be psyched about getting four new songs mixed among the a half-dozen classic live tracks culled from past performances. The first release on Mo's newly-launched independent Yolabelle International Records label, Live & Mo' is the artist's first album release since 2006's Suitcase, and it will have to do until he gets back in the studio again.
Keb' Mo's Live & Mo
One of the album's new studio tracks, "Victims of Comfort," opens Live & Mo'. A sublime soul-blues number that leans heavier towards the "soul" side, the song features Mo's intricate, jazz-inflected fretwork and an easy, soulful vocal performance. The arrangement allows for a lot of "air" or white space in between the notes, Mo's vocals accompanied by a languid groove that never overwhelms the lyrics and guitar.
The live material kicks in with another soul-blues groove, the mid-tempo "More Than One Way Home," from Mo's Just Like You, his sophomore album. With its throwback 1970s sound, George Benson-styled guitarplay, and Jeff Paris's funky keyboards, the song sounds like it would have been more at home in 1976 than in '86. Mo's guitar solo, coming at around the half-way mark, anchors the song's nimble rhythms and turns it into something to truly marvel at.
Hole In The Bucket
The spry "Hole In The Bucket" is another studio track, a jaunty, country blues-styled song that is reminiscent of Furry Lewis and Brownie McGhee. Standing at the crossroads where the Delta blues and Appalachian hillbilly music meet and shake hands, the song features plenty of harp and mandolin behind Mo's engaging vocals. Although the lyrics sound as if they could have been written in the 1920s, they're eerily just as relevant today as almost a century ago, the universal tale of poverty in spite of hard work sadly a timeless theme.
Back onstage, "One Friend," from Mo's 2004 album Keep It Simple, is an elegant mix of blues and gospel, the former supported by the singer's nuanced, emotional vocals and the latter by Mo's delicate fretting and Paris's dignified keyboard notes. The lovely "The Action," from 1986's Just Like You, showcases Mo's vocal skills as he imbues the romantic plea with subtle passion and sincerity as his subdued fretwork paints a fine border around the lyrics and the band fills in the corner with delicate colors and subtle rhythm.
A Brand New America
"Perpetual Blues Machine," also from Just Like You, is one of Mo's bluesier tracks, the guitarist channeling his inner B.B. King for a jazzy, bittersweet tale of love lost entirely appropriate to the blues. Mo's vocals are outstanding, delivering the lyrics with a mix of venom and melancholy, while his guitar licks stab at the heart of the song while the band delivers a loose, smooth rhythm.
Live & Mo' closes out with its last two new numbers, "Government Cheese" comprised of a phat groove and more 1970s-styled six-string wizardry, Mo's emotional vocals and fluid guitar tone wrapped around a tale of working class blues, the song's protagonist keeping his dignity above the indignities of poverty. The ballad-paced, folk-blues "A Brand New America" is a call to arms, of sorts, an uplifting and positive declaration of patriotism and a plea for all of us to join hands and work to make this a better world. Mo's emotional performance is both cathartic and inspirational, while the addition of the Agape Childrens Choir lifts the song onto another plane of musical beauty.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Mo' hand-picked the live tracks to compliment the new studio songs, and I'd have to say that he did a pretty good job in his first effort as a label executive. The ten tracks on Live & Mo' flow effortlessly between the stage and studio, and the differing styles of the songs mesh and compliment each other quite well.
Sure, this is a stopgap measure meant to pacify the fans that have been waiting for some new Keb' Mo', and it won't disappoint any of 'em as the album stands tall with anything in the artist's catalog. As for Mo' himself, striking out on his own may well prove to be the best thing for him, allowing him the freedom to chase his muse and make music on his own terms...something that we'll all benefit from in the long run. (Yolabelle International Records, released October 20, 2009)