Friday, June 14, 2019

Album Review: Keb' Mo' - Oklahoma

Perhaps because he started his solo career in his forties, contemporary bluesman Keb' Mo' was never a hot shot guitarist. His approached was much more nuanced. In fact, his fantastic first record was mostly an acoustic affair and for several years his concerts were solo performances. So instead of guitar pyrotechnics he concentrates on songwriting, which is maybe why a of lot his songs eschew the traditional blues formula. His influences run the gamut from soul and Rn'B to country and folk music and this record again reflects the breadth of his inspiration.

There are some great songs here: the ballad The Way I, or the driving rockers Ridin' On A Train and I Should've are all great numbers. Unfortunately, there are a few clunkers too, chief among which is Put A Woman In Charge, which features the vocal talents of Rosanne Cash. While the sentiment is something we could get behind, the execution leaves to be desired: four to the floor, quasi-disco beat, slapped bass fills, ham-fisted lyrics, and a force-fed message... Despite its honourable intentions, the song feels uninspired.

The song is part of a trilogy of sorts: there are three consecutive "protest" songs on the record, and while Throw It All Away, about the importance of recycling, is another miss, mediocre and preachy, This Is My Home, about the plight of migrants, is a beautiful country/soul ballad with a cinematic scope and one of the best songs he's written since Just Like You.

I was such a fan of his first album, which to me remains one of the best albums of the nineties and one of my very favourite records period, that I can't help but be slightly underwhelmed by this new one. Despite the quality of some of the tracks, the impassioned performance and the serviceable but pleasant production, it just can't compare to that masterpiece he released over a quarter of a century ago.

But as an artist, Keb' Mo' needs to keep working. He has songs that need to come out. Not all of them will be amazing, but this is what a songwriter does: put songs out into the world. And when he goes out and performs them live, they take on another life. Songs like I Remember You and Oklahoma, which features a delightful slide guitar solo, are sure to become classics of a repertoire that has been growing for twenty-five years and that proudly stands alongside that of other like-minded musicians like Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder or Van Dyke Parks.

Genre: Blues
Release Date: June 14th, 2019
Label: Concord Records
Rating: 6/10

Stream the album in the embedded player below. Click HERE to subscribe to Apple Music.


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