On his new release BluesAMERICANA, blues guitarist/vocalist Keb’ Mo takes the listener on a journey through the mellower, jauntier side of the blues, mixing traditional sounds and rhythms with a modern polish. The understated but expert playing is somewhat reminiscent of the smooth blues of Robert Cray, although Keb’ Mo’s deep, rich voice harkens back to classic titans such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
The opening track, “The Worst Is Yet to Come,” has a surprisingly upbeat and bouncy tone despite its gloomy name and comically dark lyrical content, and also features some highly nimble fingerpicking. Throughout the album, Keb’ Mo displays impressive dexterity with fingerpicking, wailing solos, and bent string manipulation. The songs feature a wide array of aural highlights, which stick out all the more placed within mostly laid-back arrangements.
The “Americana” portion of the title is not an idle statement. Although there is a clean, modernized finish, the songs are performed in traditional styles including Dixieland, country, Delta blues, and even New Orleans ragtime on “The Old Me Better,” a tongue-in-cheek lament for the singer’s more fun if less upstanding previous lifestyle featuring backup horns from jazz traditionalists The California Feetwarmers.
One song takes a more serious and introspective tone, the slow, mournful “For Better or Worse,” a portrait of a man looking back at how he and his wife almost split up. Keb’ Mo has admitted this song was inspired by a “rough patch” he went through in his own marriage, and the emotion shows. But the following tune, “That’s Alright,” is a breezy blues stomp, originally recorded by Jimmy Rogers, told from the perspective of a man who does not know or care much who might be sharing his lover’s bed when he isn’t around, is more indicative of the album’s overall sound and style.
Keb’ Mo has always done a good job bridging the heart and soul of classic American music with the professionalism and sound quality of the modern ear, and BluesAMERICANA continues that tradition.