How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Combining country blues with folksy pop is about as sensible as coating barbecue ribs in chocolate sauce, but Keb' Mo' fourth release The Door works amazingly well. To these ears, it's the best since his 1994 debut.
Some blues purists grumble that Keb' Mo's sensitive blend of blues, folk and pop is watered down to please the masses. True, Keb' Mo' is wildly popular compared to most blues artists, and yes, his music is mellower and more radio-friendly than most blues. But the L.A. native is hardly the blues equivalent of Kenny G. Mo's voice is smoky and soothing, and his songs are progressive in a way that's cleverly understated.
Take his remake of the Elmore James' classic "It Hurts Me Too." It's nearly impossible to make a synthesizer work in a blues context, but Keb' Mo' finds a way on this track, which begins in traditional enough fashion but glides into a funky groove with a cool synth backdrop. Then there's the ultra-funky "Stand Up (And Be Strong)." How many funk numbers have you heard that feature a banjo? Few musicians can captivate with just their voice and guitar, but Keb' Mo' pulls it off on gentle numbers like "Anyway." And with sophisticated compositions such as the jazzy "It's All Coming Back," Keb' Mo' extends himself well beyond the blues. Still, he tries to keep the purists at bay by tossing them acoustic nuggets like the tender "Loola Loo" (co-written with Bobby McFerrin).
It's as if DNA from Robert Johnson and James Taylor fused inside this singer-songwriter, simply known as Kevin Moore when he played guitar with Papa John Creach back in the '70s. At 49 years old, Keb' Mo' has paid is dues. More importantly, he 's a compelling singer, a versatile stringman, and a fine songwriter. He's also one of the few best-selling artists today whose music genuinely deserves a big audience.
Track Listing: Door; Loola Loo; It Hurts Me Too; Come on Back; Stand up (And Be Strong); Anyway; Don't You Know; It's All Coming Back; Gimme What You Got; Mommy Can I Come Home; Change; Beginning
Personnel: Keb' Mo' (guitars, banjo, harmonica, vocals); Jim Keltner, Steve Jordan (drums); Sergio Gonzalez (percussion, drums); Reggie McBride (bass); Scarlet Rivera (violin); Greg Leisz (pedal steel guitar); Greg Phillinganes (synthesizer, pedal steel guitar, keyboards); David Mann, Lawrence Feldman (saxes); Thomas Tally (viola); Gerri Sutyak (cello); Leon Ware, Dennis Collins, Marva Hicks (backup vocals)