Keb’ Mo’ adds to his musical legacy with ‘BLUESAmericana’
By Moira McCormick For Sun-Times Media April 10, 2014 1:44PM
7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Apr. 11 Space, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston SOLD OUT; evanstonspace.com
Updated: April 11, 2014 12:25PM
After 40-plus years as a recording artist, with a dozen solo albums, three Grammy awards for best contemporary blues, and numerous sideman credits, Keb’ Mo’ has earned the right to “make a record when I get around to it.”
Now Mo’, who plays two sold-out shows April 11 at Space in Evanston, is poised to unleash his first album in three years, “BLUESAmericana .” As the 63-year old Mo’, born Kevin Moore, said in a recent phone call, “If you make one good one, that’s all you need for a while, y’know?”
Since 2011’s Grammy-nominated “The Reflection,” this native Angeleno’s mostly relished “hanging out with my wife and kid” in his adopted hometown of Nashville, Tenn., while his voice is heard weekly on CBS-TV’s Chicago-situated sitcom “Mike & Molly” (its theme is Mo’s winsome 2006 track, “I See Love.”)
“BLUESAmericana,” which drops Apr. 22, is the inaugural release on the singer, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and sometimes actor’s boutique label, Kind of Blue Music, founded by his vocalist wife Robbie Brooks Moore and handled by Sony’s RED Distribution. A nod to Miles Davis’s monumental 1959 album “Kind of Blue,” which Mo’ played for Robbie when they began dating, the label name also pithily describes his own sound.
Mo’s self-titled 1994 solo debut, steeped in unvarnished country blues, led critics to anoint him as the second coming of the (literally) legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson. But he’s skirted that purist territory ever since, much to the dismay of doctrinaire music chroniclers. “They can’t put it in that one box,” shrugged Mo’, who’s continued to paint his recorded oeuvre in hybrid shades — pop-blues, folk-blues, gospel-blues, etc. His new label spells it right out — he acknowledges: “I am ‘kind of’ blue.”
“He can play just about anything on guitar,” observed Chic Street Man, a Seattle-based singer, songwriter, and fellow sometime actor, who met Mo’ working in an L.A. stage adaptation of Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston’s short story, “Spunk.” “Lots of folks are righteous in one or two areas, but Kevin rocks them all.”
The album title “BLUESAmericana” itself is an apt moniker for the musical genre Mo’s been handcrafting for decades. Its 10, no-dross tracks adroitly braid America’s most influential indigenous music form with the assorted homegrown styles noted above — plus the brassified strut of New Orleans second-line jazz, which juices up album cut “The Old Me Better.” It’s the wry yet spirited lament of an irredeemably settled dad yearning for the glorious days of his misspent youth (“But now I’m sitting here looking back, wearing this stupid sweater/Truth be told I got to say, I like the old me better”).
A very special backing vocalist sings bass on the gospel-laced “Somebody Hurt You.” Keb’s now 73-year-old friend Ernest “Rip” Patton, his childhood next-door neighbor in Compton, Calif., was a daytime bus driver, nighttime jazz drummer — and, unbeknownst to Mo’ until years later, a Civil Rights-era Freedom Rider.
“He was just my friend Rip; I’d shown him my first guitar,” Mo’ said. “I’d had no idea he was this huge part of American history.”