I never throw around the word “raconteur” lightly, but if I had to choose one musician who embodies everything it stands for, it is unequivocally Dr. Keb’ Mo’. Yes, you read that correctly – Mr. Kevin Roosevelt Moore, the four-time Grammy Award winner, received an Honorary Doctorate degree from Williams College just recently – an impressive honor to be sure. Oklahoma is his latest album and first solo effort since Blues Americana (2014) and his Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Taj Mahal, TajMo (2017) – read my Ink 19 reviews here: ink19.com/2014/07/magazine/music-reviews/keb-mo , ink19.com/2017/07/magazine/music-reviews/taj-mahal-and-keb-mo . Recorded in Nashville with a lengthy list of musicians and co-produced by Keb’ Mo’ and Colin Linden (who also plays electric guitar, resonator and mandolin on various tracks), the ten-cut release (all co-written by Keb’ Mo’) is yet another shining illustration of why I love him. A 25-year veteran of the music industry, Keb’s latest is a socio-political, environment-conscious record done subtly, in the Keb’ Mo’ way – featuring simple stories with powerful messages. But it also celebrates the strength of women – all women – in particular, the women in his immediate world. He dedicates the record to his late mother, Lauvella Cole (who passed away in 2018 at 91 years old) and he thanks his wife, Robbie Brooks Moore (who appears on the record) as well as his sisters (“They are strong ‘Women in Charge.'”). The simmering stew of roots/Americana, delta blues, R&B and soul co-mingle throughout and offer witty lyrics as well as beautifully crafted ballads that prove, time and again, why Keb’ Mo’ has been so consistently successful in the music world.
The record opens strong with “I Remember You,” a stank-soaked burner about a brief evening with a red-dressed, high-heeled, margarita-drinking heartbreaker who clearly left her mark long after the encounter. Keb’ paints a clear picture that allows your mind’s eye to envision the dark, smoky bar and the beautiful, mysterious woman dancing to the music. The steel guitar/drum combo and subtle electric guitar and keys all combine to kick off this album with an immediate hook.
Co-written with Oklahoma native and current Nashville resident, Dara Tucker, the title track, “Oklahoma,” features Robert Randolph on lap steel, and it’s refreshingly subtle. It also includes tempered keys and backing vocals from Tucker (who also co-wrote the track), Robbie Brooks Moore and even Carter Moore, Keb’ and Robbie’s son. But the real star of this song is Andy Lefwich’s unexpected violin solo. The song itself was inspired by a trip to the state to perform as part of a benefit following a tornado, and with the help of Tucker it became something quite extraordinary. Historical references abound and make the song come alive. Oklahoma/Cowboys and Choctaws/Oklahoma/Chickasaws and outlaws/I can feel the sunshine, sweeping through the plains…Well over on Greenwood, Archer and Pine/Lives an elevated state of mind. That last reference was an ugly footnote in the state’s history involving racial tensions and a horrible massacre that destroyed a community in 1921.
Released as a single last year but too good not to include in this collection, “Put A Woman In Charge” is the ultimate female empowerment song and it gets a little boost with Rosanne Cash’s vocals.
At a time in our history when we truly need a song that cuts right to the chase, “This Is My Home” is that song. The duet with Jaci Velasquez promotes tolerance, equality and freedom through simple lyrics and melodies, and it’s one of the strongest tracks on the record. I love the understated accordion too. Keb’ describes it perfectly: “[It] is a love story about people making their way in a changing world. Immigrant, enslaved or native, we all have a story and a history.”
Following their award-winning joint album and tour, Keb’ once again collaborates with Taj Mahal on the eco-friendly piece, “Don’t Throw It Away.” I’m all about ANYTHING with Taj, and this does not disappoint. The combination of mandolin, harp (Keb’ Mo’), resonator (Linden) and Taj’s vocal (also on bass) promotes an awareness of our world and our responsibility to our environment.
“The Way I” is a touching, acoustic ballad filled with regret over a broken relationship but also with the promise of renewed hope in this obvious biblical, baptismal reference. Heaven give us one more chance/Take me to the riverside/Wash me in the water/Hold my hand/And help me lose my foolish pride.
Armed only with steel guitar and fabulously drum-driven, “Riding On A Train” gives you your delta blues fix with a contemporary spin. It’s definitely one of my favorites.
I think that everyone can relate to the theme of “I Should’ve.” No relationship is perfect, and every one has its ups and downs. While we can think back on other relationships and wonder “what if,” in the end, we realize that what we have is worth fighting for and what we may have had with someone else may have failed. But it’s all done in the hilarious Keb’ Mo’ way. You tried on a dress/And asked me ‘do I look fat’/I said you look great/You said ‘waddya mean by that’/Bottom line/I got no regrets/Baby your’re the best thing/Any man could ever get.
“Cold Outside” is another funky blues track about love’s betrayal. I thought it was cold outside/Til I walked in here/…Baby I can feel, what I can’t see and hear/…Baby don’t lie, don’t be so insincere/’Cause baby I know/Your other man been here.
Maybe it’s because I’m sentimental, maybe it’s because I’ve personally interacted with these two, maybe it’s just the idea of Mr. and Mrs. Moore telling their love story in song, or maybe (likely) it’s all of the above, but “Beautiful Music” poignantly finishes off this flawless record. I can just envision Keb’ and Robbie in the studio, singing these honest, heartfelt words to each other, smiling and looking into each other’s eyes. What would I have in common with a girl like you/You’re eleven out of ten, I might be a two…The day that I met you, I wasn’t at my best/I was wearing no makeup, and my hair was a mess. To quote Jane Austen, “Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another.” I’ve honestly never met two people who were more perfect for each other.
Keb’ Mo’ is truly unlike any other artist on today’s contemporary blues scene. He has an uncanny ability to paint a musical kaleidoscope and offer a range of styles and sounds that appeal to a wide audience, all the while remaining true to himself as an artist. If you’re a long-time fan, you “get” that meaning. If you are new to his music, give this latest record a listen and I am certain that you will crave more after hearing it and dig deeper into his catalog.