On his third CD, Keb’ Mo’, also known as Kevin Moore, continues his tradition of contemporary blues. His self-titled debut album won the W.C. Handy award. W.C. Handy along with Gertrude “Ma” Rainy and Hart Wand all contributed to “discovering” the blues, according to Craig Awmiller’s book This House On Fire: The Story of the Blues.
That may be fine for a book, but anyone who knows anything knows the blues have existed for many years, long before that trio came along. Blues can trace its origins to the African tradition of the griot, a type of traveling minstrel who spread jokes, gave advice, told stories, and sang. The griot was looked upon as a holy figure who had the power to make a person laugh or cry with his songs.
With his first album, Keb’ Mo’ set a standard with his first-rate guitar work, self-deprecating lyrics, and soulful vocals. If this third album doesn’t quite reach the same high peak as his first, it’s only because this one is lively, with plenty of joyful guitar licks and lyrics that poke gentle fun at both the singer and the listener. On the track, “I was Wrong” the second verse argues why the singer’s woman should stay after she has caught him cheating,
What about all the fun we had together
It meant a lot to me baby
it must have meant something to you
Well, ok, I see your point
But baby please
Don’t let a little thing like this
come between us
Cause our love is bigger than this.
Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens sing back-up vocals. The harmonica lends a sorrowful sound, the guitar work is masterful, and the drums add a balanced beat. The listener is invited to sympathize with the all too human behavior of the song’s narrator while possibly remembering similar personal incidents.
That is the heart of the Blues. The songs celebrate the human condition with all it follies, romantic misadventures, drinking a little more than is healthful, and the difficulties making ends meet. “Soon As I Get Paid” is a delightful song that opens with guitar picking. Drums break in, the guitar slides, and Mr. Mo’ begins to sing,
Ring-a-ling with the telephone
Is the man of the house home
Your mastercard is overdue
Mr Mo’, we need a payment from you.
Using the traditional blues formula of being broke, Keb’ Mo’ takes the problems to the nineties with past due credit card payment. Who can’t relate to that? On the title track, Slow Down, the narrator of the song makes this observation,
Doin my own thang
I’m all grown up
Yes I am
Little bit older
But I fell like a young buck
I’m ridin’ down the highway
In a brand new mini van
Wife and kids screamin’
Ooh God I’m a family man
I’m outta mind
If that don’t give a person the blues, nothing will.
I was able to see Keb’ Mo’ at a small venue the first of September. I noticed what others have commented on, but I never believed. The recording studio has a tendency to flatten out the voice. In Rock or Rap this might not be noticeable â€“ particularly if the voice is electronically augmented. The exact opposite is noticed, though, in a live performance. The performer doesn’t sound as good. This is not to say Keb’ Mo’ doesn’t sound good on his albums. He does. His voice is warm, deep, and emotive, but live his voice possess rough magic. The purity of his voice is especially notable on “A Letter to Tracy,” “Henry” and “Rainmaker” where the beauty of his voice compliments the beauty of the lyrics.
Keb’ Mo’ is a fine and accomplished songwriter, not to mention one hell of a guitar player. The guitar work on “Henry” can’t be beat. A highlight of Slow Down is a cover of Robert Johnson’s song “Love in Vain.” Only 41 recordings remain by Robert Johnson and it keeps Johnson’s heritage alive for new blues men to cover his songs. All of Johnson’s recordings have been collected by Columbia under the title Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings. Keb’ Mo’ covers “Love in Vain” with dignity and preseveres the depth of feeling in Johnson’s song. “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Kindhearted Woman Blues” are covered on his first album.
Blues aren’t about race or money or social position and you don’t have to be a certain way to love them. They shouldn’t ever be about posturing, or trying to be cool. The blues should be about soulfulness and reminding the listener of good times and bad times, simultaneously. As long as people have troubles, whether that trouble bes collection men or an unfaithful lover, someone is going to sing the blues.