NIGHT OUT ALERT: It’s a true gauge of his skill that so many performers have either played on Keb’ Mo’s albums or had him sit in on theirs. And it’s a coup for bergenPAC that Mo’ and his new band are booked to play in Englewood this Sunday night.
I circled the date months ago not knowing – or caring — whether Kevin Moore would play solo or with a band. I’ve seen him several times, each in a different setting, each with a different setlist, once teaming up with Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt during the “Move On” tour.
Doesn’t matter: The man is, first and foremost, an accomplished performer, guaranteed to satisfy.
If you don’t know much about blues other than the fact that it moves you, Keb’ Mo’ is playin’ your tunes. He’s doing so in a rich baritone, often accompanied by his familiar dobro, with either finger picks or a bottleneck slide.
If you’re into the history of the music, you may already consider the man in the fedora and Converse All Stars a genuine successor in the long line that stretches back to Elmore James and Robert Johnson and more recently includes Taj Mahal and Buddy Guy.
The three-time Grammy winner wrote, and will perform, the elegant “Henry” as a tribute to the magnificent Taj (aka Henry Saint Clair Fredericks).
WHO: Keb’ Mo’
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
EST. LENGTH: 2 hours+
TICKETS: CLICK HERE
What makes Mo’ special in his own right is loyalty. He’s gone to the crossroads, as he sings in “Muddy Water,” but he didn’t sell his soul to the pop devil. And although he plays it his way, he still gets airplay, not to mention side gigs that include writing “I See Love,” the theme song for the sitcom “Mike & Molly.”
Here’s a perfect example of Mo’s soulful swing, from the PBS show “Sessions at West 54th Street“:
True, Mo’ totes a bucket of songs that have been spit-shined and polished — including, among others, the slinky “Whole Enchilada” from his latest album, “The Reflection” – but there’s an edge that in other hands might be glossed.
The most prominent difference in Mo’s blues is hope, no matter how “Flat, Broke and Busted” the singer may be. The music has soul, bounce and swing. It’s sometimes steamy and sultry (“Dangerous Mood”), sometimes quick and playful (“Perpetual Blues Machine,” “Angelina”) and sometimes all-out rockin’ (“Standing at the Station”). It grabs you, tickles you, makes you laugh and dance at the same time.
Then again, he’ll just as quickly bring the entire house to a hush with Mr. Johnson’s good-man-done-wrong “Love In Vain,” the deceptively gentle “Shave Yo’ Legs,” the loving/lovely “Every Morning,” or “We Don’t Need It,” the heartbreaking story of a man who doesn’t know how to tell his family that he lost his job.
In his fingers, a legendary blues standard (also by RJ) comes out sounding new:
This is the perfect point in a tour that began the first week of August.
Mo’ and his five-piece band have honed the act, pumping up his older solo material to bring the same kick as the jazz- and funk-inflected tunes on “The Reflection,” which includes contributions by, among others, India.Arie, Vince Gill and Dave Koz. (SPOILER ALERT: Skip to the next paragraph if you like being surprised.) The album, and the show, feature a soulful version of the Eagles’ “One Of These Nights.”
Overall, “The Reflection” is a bit of a stretch for the Los Angeles-born entertainer, but one he was going to have to make to stave off monotony. And while it may stray a little too far for purists, the album’s final track, “Something Within” — co-written with one of the first African-American female gospel composers and featuring a sample of Mo’s late grandfather, Roosevelt Victor Wyatt – lets listeners know that Mo hasn’t forgotten his roots.
His live performances only drive that point home.
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30 N. Van Brunt Street, Englewood, NJ 07631 | 201.227.1030 | www.bergenpac.org
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