Keb’ Mo’ – Good to Be… | Album Review

Keb’ Mo’ – Good to Be…

Concord Music Group/Rounder Records

13 songs – 48 minutes

Five-time Grammy winner Keb’ Mo’ delivers some of the smoothest, most upbeat music in the blues world, and he outdoes himself on his latest CD, teaming with some surprising guests to shine a little light, to spread a little love and to dispense joy and encouragement to a world wracked by disease, political strife and more.

A native of Compton, Calif., who’s been based out of Nashville for a decade, Keb’ – born Kevin Roosevelt Moore – used his new locale to his advantage when he put this album together during a year off the road because of COVID-19. Music City superstar and close friend Vince Gill, Darius Rucker, the full roster of Old Crow Medicine Show, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Kristin Chenoweth are just a few of the folks in this extensive, star-studded lineup.

It’s a long-awaited follow-up to Keb’s 2019 holiday release, Moonlight, Mistletoe and You. And despite the almost unspoken theme of surviving in times of trouble, it has the same light and airy feel of his previous CD, Oklahoma, which featured Taj Mahal, Roseanne Cash and Robert Randolph in cameos and delivered powerful, but easy-on-the-pallet messages about the 1921 Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa and more.

A deep-in-the-pocket, relaxed and hard-to-define mix of blues, country, pop, soul and Americana, Good to Be… was recorded at Ocean Way Nashville Recording Studios, Stu Stu Studio in Franklin, Tenn., and at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis and produced by Keb’ in partnership with Tom Hambridge, Zach Allen, Old Crow front man Ketch Secor and Gill.

Keb’ plays acoustic, electric and resonator guitars and congas in a roster that includes Gordon Mote, Jimmy Nichols, Michael B. Hicks, Cory Younts, Phil Madeira and Steve Dorff (keys), Tom Bukovac, Akil Thompson, Robert Price, Kingfish and Gill (guitar), Paul Franklin (pedal steel), Secor (fiddle and harp) Nathan East, Morgan Jahnig, Victor Wooten and Anton Nesbitt (bass), Greg Morrow, Marcus Finnie, Keio Stroud, Chester Thompson and Hambridge (drums) and Doctah B. Sirius and Jerry Pentecost (percussion).

Gill, Rucker, Chenoweth and Secor share the mic with Keb’ with Wendy Moten, Emoni Wilkins, Moiba Mustapha, Robbie Brooks Moore, Katie Williams, Rip Patton, Casey Wasner and Gill provide backing vocals. The lineup also includes Dana Robbins (sax), Steve Herrman (trumpet), Bob McChesney (trombone) and two string sections composed of two dozen musicians.

“Good to Be (Home Again),” a sweet acoustic number, celebrates Keb’s return to Compton, where he repurchased his childhood home. Despite “a whole lotta things ain’t what they used to be,” he says, “who would’ve known that it would feel so good.” It flows into the medium-paced shuffle, “So Easy,” a love song in which the singer admits to having been afraid of opening his heart in the past – something that changed when his lady freed his soul and made his life make sense.

The easy/breezy “Sunny and Warm” finds Keb’ planning to chill out at the shore and enjoying the company of his lady and everything summer has to offer before Rucker joins the action for “Good Strong Woman,” a warning from Mama that his current gal is T-R-O-U-B-L-E and he needs to find “someone who’ll never gonna let you down.” Singing about COVID could be a downer, but not when Keb’ teams with Old Crow to deliver “The Medicine Man,” which insists that everyone’s doing the best they can as they await the arrival of a good MD with the right Rx and proclaims that “I’m just gonna love everybody ‘til the day I die.”

The ballad “Marvelous to Me” draws references to Martin Luther King as it looks forward to a better world in which troubles are in the rear-view mirror and freedom and equality exists for all before Keb’ launches into the only cover in the set, a stripped-down reworking of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.” It flows into “Like Love,” which celebrates romance in all of its forms, and the minor-keyed “Dressed Up in Blue,” which refers back to Mama and finds the singer forlorn because his woman has left him for another man and bookends with “’62 Chevy,” in which he reacquires a favorite car from the past and wonders if he can pick up the lady where they left off.

Politics come to the fore in “Louder” in which Keb’ recognizes the younger generation who are demanding change, noting: “Stronger than steel, they’re gonna get louder. It’s about to get real” before “So Good to Me” celebrates a good woman once more. The action closes with “Quiet Moments,” a duet with Chenoweth that celebrates quiet moments and bodies in the dark talking heart-to-heart.

Looking for something upbeat for a change? You’ll love this one. Strongly recommended.

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