Naive and bland or optimistic and soothing?
Although as Kevin Moore Keb’Mo’ released an album in 1980, it was actually in 1994 that he produced his first self-titled disc. It was very much in an acoustic blues tradition and since then he has produced a further 16 albums before releasing the current offering, ‘Good to be Home’. He has won 5 Grammys and 14 Blues Foundation awards in those years and is clearly an artist of some standing and his most notable of several collaborations has been with Taj Mahal under the moniker, ‘TajMo’. In the very early days, he was associated with the sometime Jefferson Airplane violinist Papa John Creach and served a long musical apprenticeship throughout the 70s’ and 80s’. Not surprisingly in a 50-year career, he has accomplished a great deal as an activist, screen presence, fundraiser and initial supporter of, ‘Playing for Change’. After what might then be considered a long period of gestation Mo’ made his name as a sweet-voiced purveyor of Country and Delta Blues. Judging by the current offering he seems to have travelled a long way in that time and, whilst there is no merit in standing still if the current album represents his most recent musical direction then it may have been a backward step.
“The album was written between Nashville and his childhood home in Compton, California, which Keb’ recently purchased and renovated. He often found himself reflecting on the idea of home and contemplating what it means to belong and what it takes to stay true to yourself. “You can’t bring an attitude to Compton,” reflects Keb’. “You can’t pose. You can’t be anything but real when you’re walking down the same streets you used to ride your bike on as a kid. In a lot of ways, coming back there felt like it completed me.”
The title track is the opener and despite the album title it seems to be the only track on the disc that deals with homecoming. The rest are equally divided between what might be termed love songs and some that observe and question the state of the world. ‘Louder’ suggests that there is now a young generation who are, ‘about to get real’, in their search for action on a variety of pressing matters. ‘Medicine Man’, offers a hopeful perspective on issues such as Covid and the state of the planet and the singers answer is to, ‘love everybody till the day I die’. Mo’ is an active campaigner and much to be admired but he would appear not to have taken account of the rise of the right, the state of the planet, and the concerning state of his own country among many other hugely concerning issues in a world that feels more parlous than it has in decades. ‘Marvellous to Me’, again suggests a brighter future – and I’m sure it’s what we would all wish for – with a, ‘deeper conversation in every nation’. Maybe some of us are just looking at a different picture?
‘Lean on Me’, offers a take on a classic song that adds little to the original but it does highlight the soul influence in the singers work, as does, ‘All Dressed Up’. Whether it’s necessary to add anything to a classic song is of course a matter of debate and there are clearly no rules either way. It’s a strong vocal for sure but then so was the original.
The love songs, or songs of love, are pleasant to listen to and no doubt heartfelt but offer little new by way of insight and the overall feel is that of a cheerful, optimistic view of the future both personally and in the wider sense. As the accompanying press release suggests.
Drawing on country, folk, blues, and soul, the collection transcends genre and geography, weaving together a joyful, heartwarming and relentlessly optimistic tapestry.
Relentless optimism is right – though whether that’s a quality to be admired is another thing.
Mo’ is joined by Darius Rucker, The Old Crowe Medicine Show and Kristin Chenoweth on three tracks. The accompaniments are certainly well played though stand out musical moments are few – perhaps the solo guitar on, ‘Marvellous to Me’, the intro to, ‘ All Dressed Up’, and the acoustic guitar and strings on, ‘Quiet Moment’.
Fans of Keb’ Mo’ will be aware of whether, ‘Good to be Home’, offers a logical progression or a radical departure from his earlier work. It certainly seems different from the albums that made his name. Old age is always likely to bring a mellowing approach – a prime example of that would be Eric Clapton (at least in his musical approach if not his thinking). It’s interesting that Taj Mahal is a close confrere of Mo’s and it could be argued that the nearer his music got to the Caribbean the more it lost its edge. Be that as it may, it’s hard to square Mo’s view of world events and how to approach them with the reality of our current lives. Optimism may be more useful as a balm than a panacea.
In their review, ‘No Depression’, was of the view that the album was, ‘A collection of originals that defies genre pigeonholing’. That lack of pigeonholing can be seen as either a strength or a weakness and there were times particularly on the title track where it felt like we were drifting into easy listening and perhaps hearing the new theme tune for Neighbours. Maybe it’s all better judged on a summers day than a miserable February?