Good To Be...

Keb' Mo'

Rounder, 2022

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


You could throw a lot of adjectives at Keb’ Mo’ and have them stick: easygoing, charismatic, clever, craftsmanlike and more. Just don’t forget “dependable.” Fifteen albums into a career that’s included forays into children’s music, covers, a collaboration with Taj Mahal, and a pair of live releases, there are certain things we’ve come to expect and even anticipate from a new set of Keb’ Mo’ songs—heartfelt ballads, clever story songs, timely lyrics, interesting collaborations, and a broad range of sounds rooted in and derived from traditional blues.

A new Keb’ Mo’ album is like getting reacquainted with an old friend; certain rhythms and attitudes and ideas are so familiar that you just slip right into them, and that easy familiarity is comforting and also kind of fun. Album number 16 Good To Be… delivers all of these familiar elements in dependably appealing and entertaining fashion.

The opening title track “Good To Be” finds Mo’ emerging from lockdown to revisit the Compton neighborhood where he grew up, subject matter that could have been fraught for any number of reasons, but which Mo’s perpetually positive attitude turns into something beautiful. “It’s good to be here / It’s good to be anywhere / It’s good to be back / It’s good to be home again,” he sings over a gentle blues shuffle augmented by guests Paul Franklin (pedal steel) and Vince Gill (harmony vocals).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“So Easy” and “Sunny And Warm” follow in suit, songs whose substance is exactly what their titles imply—a strutting, finger-snapping celebration of love with nice horn accents, and a song about a crush that’s warm and sunny enough to inspire visions of Jimmy Buffett reincarnated as a Delta bluesman. “Good Strong Woman” is again just what the title implies, a song of praise for powerful women, on which Mo’ duets amiably with guest Darius Rucker.

Mo’ gets topical in a big way with “The Medicine Man,” an earthy, rollicking pandemic anthem. If that sounds like a contradiction, wait ’til you hear Mo’ and special guests Old Crow Medicine Show (because: of course) singing “Everybody’s doin’ the best they can / We’re all just waitin’ on the Medicine Man.” It’s very much on the nose and yet it works, managing to be celebratory and serious all at once.

Mo’s determined optimism comes to the fore again on “Marvelous To Me,” a steady-building ballad featuring piano, guitar, and a full string section behind this virtual topic sentence for Mo’s catalogue: “It’s a crazy world, a crazy time / Maybe this is the way it was meant to be / I got a hopeful heart, got my head up high… I’ve been knocked to the ground / But I’m still standin’.” Following in perfect form, the only surprising thing about a Keb’ Mo’ cover of Bill Withers’ classic “Lean On Me” is that he hasn’t done it before; it’s a song that encapsulates his entire musical ethos.

The second half of Good To Be… is somewhat less memorable, though it has its moments. “’62 Chevy” is an easygoing number about riding along in your favorite car that couldn’t be simpler or warmer or more effortlessly charming. “Louder” is a gentle yet fervent tribute to a new generation of political activists. And closer “Quiet Moments” brings in Kristin Chenoweth to add luminous harmony vocals to a tender acoustic ballad again featuring strings and piano.

Keb’ Mo’ is a gifted bluesman with strong roots in the tradition whose attitude and musical personality today are closer to James Taylor than John Lee Hooker. That doesn’t make him any less genuine or authentic; it just makes him different. The word I would use to describe Good To Be… is comfortable. If comfortable isn’t what you’re looking for, it can feel a little basic, but for those times when it fits your mood, a comfortable album like this is a wonderful friend to have along for the ride, wherever the road may take you.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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