REVIEW: Keb’ Mo’s “Oklahoma” is Ignited Yet Organic Like Smooth Pine

Reviews

 Concord Records – Review by John Apice

I saw the Grammy Award winner Keb’Mo’ (Kevin Moore) the first time in 1996. He wore a brown fedora, button-down vest, acoustic guitar, wry cool smile, personable, likable, & working a different side of the street from other hat slingers: Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Leon Redbone & Buddy Miller.

“That’s Not Love,” “More Than One Way Home” was captivating. An original was emerging. The ease, the string picking, snap of the snare blended like Bass Ale & Guinness. It wasn’t blues, but a country-flavored blues. Balladry that had harmony & grits. Punctuated with by harmonica, crisp picks from guitars & some slide. The solos were vintage, had a middle-of-the-road old-school feel.

This young man knew how to stir his stovetop tuneful ingredients & produce a simmering rich jambalaya brew. Part Les Paul, part Robert Johnson. A wedge of Taj Mahal with a pinch of Nat King Cole and he won 4 Grammys doing it.

His 13th studio LP Oklahoma (Concord Records) features10-sparkling tracks. Guests Taj Mahal, Roseanne Cash, Robert Randolph (lap steel), Jaci Velasquez & wife Robbie Brooks Moore. Keb’Mo’ gets off to a good start with “I Remember You,” — a cool groove with vocal imagery, & guitar precision. “I remember you, walking out the door, you had a red dress on and some high heel shoes…”

Laid back funky guitar opens “Oklahoma.” Inspired by Keb’Mo’s visit after a tornado, his voice dominates clearly & his rough edge is sufficiently polished. It has a sense of age — without being old. Peppered with a hot fiery fiddle, backup & a weird spooky string sound — either an oddly tuned guitar or a bent farm saw? It is dynamic.

Rosanne Cash slips into “Put a Woman in Charge.” Steady heavy beat, bluesy powerful vocals, and musicians tight as a python wrapped around a rabbit. This feminist-anthem has soul you’d expect from a Cris Williamson, or Ferron. With Cash’s vocal in tow — it’s handclapping, foot stomping good.

The slower “This Is My Home,” is a well-written ballad, beautifully sung with pensive picking and Jaci Velasquez lends stirring backup vocals. An old-fashioned humorous folk-inspired environmentalist tune “Don’t Throw It Away follows.” With intertwining guitars, harmonica, banjo & a distinctively deep Taj Mahal backup vocal it’s all excellent.

The token rocker — “Ridin On a Train,” comes out swinging. Production wise it’s like a vintage Taj Mahal-Ry Cooder (Rising Sons) infectious type melody. True R&R lives between the fingers of these musicians.

Harmonica ignites “I Should’ve,” — style & class added to a rural-oriented barn burner that fans the hay fire with a stampeding beat. Robert Johnson himself would’ve covered this tune. In addition: the song has a jug whiskey flavor, some country back-porch blues with a sleepy-eyed bloodhound at your heel, reminiscent of early Taj Mahal.

I recall moments like this from Taj’s classic LP “Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home.” This new music has the same down-home authenticity. Taj must have rubbed off on Keb’Mo’ through the years but only the best, most potent pieces rubbed off. “Cold Outside,” — well, this is like a plank of smooth pine while everyone else has a handful of splinters.

I’m glad Mr. Moore opted out of typical electric keyboards, synths, & techno blips. This LP is organic & suits Keb’s natural voice.

The ballad duet “Beautiful Music” with Keb’s wife Robbie Brooks Moore shows diversity. Not a blues, not country-folk, or a rural fire water song. It’s Keb’Mo’ with his sincere Johnny Mathis-Nat King Cole hat on.

It’s Keb’s 25th year – and there’s no sign of let-up: Produced by Colin Linden (The Band, Bruce Cockburn) with Keb’Mo.’

Buy it June 14th @ https://kebmo.com/

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