After the unquantified success of the first Unknown But Awesome profiling solo Swedish songwriter (say that five times fast) The Tallest Man on Earth, O&T will continue to promote the small-scale musicians who deserve more credit, this time with bluesman Kevin Moore, better known as Keb’ Mo’.
Keb’ Mo’ is a singer-songwriter born and raised in South Central L.A., but unlike most musicians from that corner of the world, he’s a blues musician. Heavily influenced by the likes of Robert Johnson (he covers two of the blues king’s songs on his first album), Keb’ Mo’ is thoroughly unpretentious and thrives on the delta blues style of guitar, using a slide to add texture to his sound. The guitar playing is impressive but not ostentatious; there’s never the feeling that his fretwork is deliberately complex and Mo’ simply seems to play what he thinks will sound the best, whether an offbeat blues riff (‘Am I Wrong’ from Keb’ Mo’) or soaring single notes (‘I’m A Hero’ from Suitcase).
Moore’s vocals at points are fairly typical of the blues genre, emotional and passionate, but his is a distinctive and powerful voice which suits his slow, lonesome numbers as well as his funkier blues tracks. His tenor can be quiet and contemplative, as on tracks like ‘City Boy’ or ‘I’ll Be Your Water’, or charged with the blues blood that courses through many of his faster songs.
He doesn’t try and overpower you with pretentious lyrics, either, instead letting the music tell the story much of the time, although there are some clever lyrical touches – ‘Remain Silent’ from Suitcase stands out as one of these – on occasion. But passion and fire are more important than vocal poetry in this genre, and Keb’ Mo’s songs are fuelled by the classic themes of the style – nomadic movement (‘Suitcase’), anguished breakups (‘Rita’) and struggles against poverty (‘Every Morning’).
Keb’ Mo’ has been going since 1993, releasing many an album along the way, but his best two are his debut Keb’ Mo’ and his most recent record Suitcase. Not only do these two provide nice bookends his career thus far, but they also show that the blues is still alive and well. Despite it not having the mainstream cachet it once did, when the blues is done well, it’s still one of the most entertaining styles of music to listen to, and Keb’ Mo’ is pleading its case brilliantly.
Sickest tracks: ‘City Boy’, ‘Every Morning’ and ‘Victims of Comfort’ from Keb’ Mo’, ‘Remain’ and ‘I’m A Hero’ from Suitcase.
If you like this, you’ll also like: Seasick Steve – Dog House Music and I Started Out With Nothin’ and I Still Got Most of it Left, John Mayer – Where The Light Is.