That Hot Pink Blues Album

Keb' Mo'

Kind Of Blue, 2016

http://www.kebmo.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/11/2016

I’m just saying: if you don’t like Keb’ Mo’, there may be something wrong with you.

Sure, some blues purists might bridle at Mo’s clean, crisp sound and craftsmanlike approach to melody and song structure—his music is really a rangy hybrid of blues, soul, funk, country, folk and pop—but personally, I find fundamentalists of any creed tiresome. Over the course of 22 years and a dozen studio albums, Mo’ has delivered some of the most consistently engaging modern blues-Americana (as he termed it on his last studio album) around.

Keb’ Mo’ is also one of the most authentic and appealing performers of his generation, and that’s why a double-live album from him is such an unqualified joy. Drawing tracks from throughout his career, as well as live shows in nine different cities, the winkingly titled That Hot Pink Blues Album both reflects a typical live set from his 2015 tour, and provides a broad overview of the man’s considerable body of work.

The set both opens and closes with tunes from Mo’s most traditionalist outing, his 1994 self-titled debut, with “Tell Everybody I Know” kicking things off in fine style thanks to Mo’s sharp acoustic picking and sassy organ work from Michael B. Hicks. Stan Sargeant (bass) and Casey Wasner (drums) comprise the endlessly versatile rhythm section, with Wasner doubling as producer of this sharp-sounding set.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The rest of the first disc cherry-picks its way through Mo’s catalogue, featuring emphatic takes on “Somebody Hurt You” (2014), “Henry” (1998), “Life Is Beautiful” (2006), “She Just Wants to Dance” (1994), and “The Worst Is Yet To Come” (2014). The contrast among the latter three tells a story in itself; the blues is all about the highs and the lows, the joys and the pain that make up a life. “Government Cheese” arrives late on disc one, adding funk to the mix.  

The second disc is, if anything, stronger, sandwiching the playful, clever “France” between the steadfast, devoted “Come On Back” and the soaring, lyrical “More Than One Way Home.” Like “Life Is Beautiful,” the latter two are taken from a Nashville date that featured welcome support from the Nashville String Orchestra, adding lift and dimension to the arrangements.

The upbeat sing-along “A Better Man” swings nicely while serving as the straight-man setup for the rascally punchline “The Old Me Better” (“You made me a brand new man, but I liked the old me better”). Soon after, the earthy “Dangerous Mood” gets an extended 8:31 treatment, leaving room for some expansive soloing that finds Mo’ more than once paying homage to one of his acknowledged influences, Mr. B.B. King. The evening winds down to a thoughtful finish with the smoky end-of-the-evening contemplation “City Boy,” the album-closer from his 1994 debut.

There will always be nay-sayers, of course; it comes with the territory when you ignore the boundaries between genres as frequently as Mo’ does. But for every fundamentalist who might read an overly facile (but reasonably accurate) description like “the James Taylor of blues” as throwing shade, there’s a listener like me who hears it as a major compliment.

That Hot Pink Blues Album is a satisfying summation of Keb’ Mo’s career to date, every bit as warm, personable, and observant as the man himself. Let’s hope there’s another dozen albums waiting up ahead.

Rating: A-

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