Keb’ Mo’s Latest Feel-Good Album Comes At the Right Time

On January 21, Keb’ Mo’ released his latest studio album Good to Be…, and I finally got to spend some time with it. I’ve been enjoying the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter whose real name is Kevin Roosevelt Moore since May 2017 and the release of TajMo, his fantastic collaboration album with Taj Mahal. Good to Be… is a warm-sounding feel-good album that in my view couldn’t have come out at a better time. I love it!

In case you’re planning to listen to Good to Be…, you should realize this isn’t a blues album, even though it’s categorized that way. Based on what I’ve heard to date, Keb’ Mo’ has never been a “hardcore” blues artist. While some of his music undoubtedly has blues elements, it also includes soul, folk, roots, Americana and country.

Good to Be… comes less than two years after Oklahoma, a roots-oriented album from June 2019 I reviewed here at the time. In October 2019, Mo’ also released Moonlight, Mistletoe & You, a collection of Christmas tunes I haven’t heard.

A review in Glide Magazine notes Good to Be… has various producers. In addition to Mo’, they include Vince Gill, Tom Hambridge and Keith Secor, who each also play on certain tracks. Among other guests are Darius Rucker (of Hootie & the Blowfish), Americana string group Old Crow Medicine Show and blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. I’d say it’s time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with the opener Good to Be (Home Again), one of the tunes co-produced by Vince Gill. Evidently, it’s a song about Mo’s return to Compton, the Southern California city where he was born in October 1951. The tune’s positive vibe sets the tone for most of the album. Here’s the official video.

Sunny And Warm is one of my early favorites. I dig the warm and laid back sound of this tune. “Basically, ‘Sunny and Warm’ is my older self talking to my younger self, looking back at those summer days of beaches and dreams of finding love,” Mo’ said about the tune. “I would never want to be a teenager again, and I won’t, because there’s no going back.”

On The Medicine Man, which features Old Crow Medicine Show, things do get more serious and the lyrics are darker with obvious references to the pandemic. “I was taking some time out at our house in California with my family,” Mo’ recalled. “We were locked in and staying away from people. Doing Zoom writing appointments, watching Dr Fauci on TV doing interviews, and it sparked some ideas. This was one of those songs that just came to me, and quickly. I woke up early one morning and wrote the whole thing in about 15 minutes.”

Did we need another rendition of Lean On Me? Under normal circumstances, I would have said ‘no.’ But with a pandemic that only in the U.S. has killed about one million people and now war raging in Europe, these aren’t normal times. Granted when Mo’ decided to record this beautiful Bill Withers song, one of the tracks co-produced by Tom Hambridge, the Russian 21st-century czar wannabe had not unleashed his reckless assault on the Ukrainian people. Even without the war, Lean On Me was the right song at the right time. “What makes this version special to me is the contribution from my lifelong friend, the Freedom Rider, Ernest “Rip” Patton, who passed on this year,” Mo’ said. “This was the last time I got to record his booming bass voice. I’m gonna miss calling on my brothers.”

Let’s finish with a nice car song: ’62 Chevy, another tune co-produced by Mo’ and Gill…I got my hands on the wheel, Y’all/Rolling steady/Rubber on the road, in my ’62 Chevy/ My ’62 Chevy gonna take you to town/ I got the dog in the back baby/ Top down (Whoa, Yeah)

Here’s a link to the entire album in Spotify.

The final word shall belong to Keb’ Mo’. “I may be turning 70,” Mo’ says in his bio posted on his website [actually, he already did, on October 2, 2021 – CMM]. “But I’m still breathing and I’m still hungry. I’m still out there going for it every single day.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; Keb’ Mo’ website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Sometimes it’s funny how things go. Even though my employer observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, as such, I was officially off on Monday, this week still felt very long. Finally, Saturday and another installment of my weekly new music feature are here. This time, my picks include three artists/bands who are entirely new to me and two I’m familiar with, especially one I’ve known since the ’80s. Except for the last tune, all tracks appeared on albums that were released yesterday (January 21).

Miles Kane/Change the Show

My first pick is Miles Kane, who is known as a solo artist and as a member of English supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets. He also used to be the lead vocalist of English rock band The Rascals, who were active from 2007 until 2009 when Kane decided to launch a solo career. His Apple Music profile describes him as an artist with a “resonant croon and charismatic stage swagger” who is “known for his vintage ’60s- and ’70s-inspired rock sound.” Here’s more from Apple Music: Born in 1986 in Merseyside, Kane was an 18-year-old guitarist when he formed his first band Little Flames with childhood friends vocalist Eva Petersen, guitarist Mat Gregory, bassist Joe Edwards, and drummer Greg Mighall. However, after Petersen and Gregory left the band due to creative differences, Kane and the remaining members formed the Rascals with Kane taking on vocal duties...In 2011, he delivered his full-length solo debut, Colour of the Trap. This brings me to Change the Show, the title track of Kane’s new and fourth solo album. The tune was co-written by him and Jamie Biles – catchy pop/rock with a retro flavor.

Texas Hill/Heaven Down Here

Texas Hill are an alternative country trio founded in 2020. According to their website, Craig Wayne Boyd offers a voice full of gospel-tinged country smoke, Adam Wakefield blends a rootsy bluegrass-and-Americana rasp, and Casey James wraps it with a blue-eyed soul quality and deft blues guitar chops. [Casey James did ring a bell, and it turned out in June 2017, I covered his sophomore solo album Strip It Down.]…The Voice and American Idol worked in creating a fan base for all three...That connection helped forge Texas Hill. James and Boyd, who grew up 60 miles apart on the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, ran into one another at a 2019 event in Nashville and dove into conversation…Roughly a month later, Boyd brought Wakefield into the musical conversation, and when the three of them met up, Boyd introduced a song he’d just written. In September 2020, Texas Hill released their eponymous debut EP. Heaven Down There, credited to all three members, is the title track of their first full-length album. Great country rock with beautiful harmony singing – the kind of music that makes me happy!

Keb’ Mo’/Good Strong Woman

Keb’ Mo’ (born Kevin Roosevelt Moore) probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. While typically characterized as a blues artist, the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter also integrates elements of pop and Americana into his music. I grew fond of Moore when he teamed up with Taj Mahal for their great 2017 “uplifting blues” collaboration album TajMo, which I reviewed here. I also saw the two later that same year during the tour that supported TajMo. Good Strong Woman, which features former Hootie & the Blowfish lead vocalist Darius Rucker, is a track from Keb’ Mo’s new album Good To Be…The soulful, country-flavored tune was co-written by Moore and Jason Gantt. This sounds really sweet! Here’s the official video.

Penny & Sparrow/Voodoo

Penny & Sparrow are an indie folk duo of Texas singer-songwriters Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke. According to their Apple Music profile, they rose out of Austin, Texas, in the early part of the 2010s, combining rich harmonies and a modern sensibility inspired by acts like Bon Iver, the Swell Season, and Mumford & Sons. After honing their sound with a few indie releases, they signed with Southern indie Single Lock Records and issued a trio of well-received albums including 2016’s Let a Lover Drown You and 2019’s Finch. Voodoo is a tune off Penny & Sparrow’s new album Olly Olly. Like all except one of the other 11 tracks on the record, it was co-written by Baxter and Jahnke. Sounds pretty!

Scorpions/Rock Believer

This brings me to my final pick, which comes from Scorpions. When I last featured the German rock/pop metal stalwarts in a Best of What’s New installment in May 2020, I referenced a statement by the group that noted they “are working on lot’s of Hard‘n Heavy Rockers for our new album these days.” That album, Rock Believer, is now in the can and scheduled for February 25. Here’s the title track, which was released on January 14 as the second upfront single of what will be the band’s 19th studio album. Scorpions were formed in 1965 in Hannover, Germany by guitarist Rudolf Schenker, who remains with the group to this day. The present line-up also features Klaus Meine (lead vocals, guitar; since 1969), Matthias Jabs (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals; since 1978), Paweł Mąciwoda (bass, backing vocals; since 2003) and Mikkey Dee (drums; since 2016). Scorpions first entered my radar screen with their immensely successful 1984 album Love at First Sting. In general, I dig their melodic pop metal, though whether I want to listen to it also depends on my mood, which I think applies to most other music as well.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Texas Hill website; Scorpions website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s very satisfying to me that since the introduction of this recurring feature two months ago, I’ve discovered newly released music each week that sufficiently intrigues me to write about it. This may sound arrogant, but the reality is most new music simply doesn’t speak to me, especially pretty much anything that’s in the current charts. So it’s been great to see there are exceptions.

This week’s installment includes nice variety, featuring rock, country, folk, Americana and soul. The majority of these artists are new to me, even though most have been around for more than 20 years. There are also two who have been active for 60 years, including one name I had not heard in a long time. Let’s get to it.

Jupiter Coyote/Hungry Ghost

According to AllMusic, Jupiter Coyote is a five-piece band blending bluegrass with traditional rock, which has been around since the early ’90s. Their debut album appears to be Cemeteries and Junkyards from November 1993. In total, AllMusic lists 12 records in the band’s discography, the most recent of which is The Interplanetary Yard Dog from February this year. Hungry Ghost is their latest single, which came out last Friday, May 8. It’s not on the aforementioned album. It was written by co-founding members and guitarist Matthew Mayes. I can hear some Hootie & the Blowfish in the tune, mostly because of the vocals that stylistically remind me a bit of Darius Rucker, though the music has a nice build toward a more edgy rock sound. It’s pretty cool – check it out!

John Frinzi/Used to These Blues

John Frinzi is a country singer-songwriter from Lakeland, Fla. According to his website, he was discovered by Doyle Grisham, the pedal steel guitarist of the Coral Reefer Band, Jimmy Buffett’s touring and recording group. Their working relationship led to Frinzi’s 2003 debut album Into the Dawn. On his second album Shoreline, he co-wrote many songs with Tom Corcoran, a Florida-based mystery novel author who has also been in Buffett’s circle. In 2017, Frinzi recorded Blue Sky View, an EP with songwriter and producer Aaron Scherz. Used to These Blues is Frinzi’s most recent single released on April 27. I like his vocals and the tune’s warm sound and pedal steel fill-ins. Nicely done!

Delbert McClinton/Still Rockin’

Unlike the title suggests, Still Rockin’ actually is a rather mellow ballad and the most recent single by Delbert McClinton, which appeared on March 31. McClinton, which Rolling Stone has called “Godfather of Americana Music”, has been around for more than 60 years. He released his debut album Delbert & Glen together with Glen Clark. While he has since released 29 additional albums, apparently, mainstream chart success has largely eluded him, though since the late 1990s, most of his records reached top positions on Billbord’s U.S. Blues chart. His most recent album Tall, Dark, and Handsome was well received and won the 2020 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. Based on the opener I just checked out, this definitely sounds like a record I should check out sooner than later! For now, back to Still Rockin’, which McClinton co-wrote with Bob Britt and Pat McLaughlin.

Gordon Lightfoot/Do You Walk, Do You Talk

Here’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. Admittedly, other than If You Could Read My Mind, Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which were all released in the ’70s and became hits in the U.S. and Canada, I don’t know Gordon Lightfoot’s music. What I do know is I like all of these tunes, as well as Do You Walk, Do You Talk, which is on the Canadian singer-songwriter’s new album Solo that appeared on March 20. According to a Rolling Stone story, it is his first album of newly released material in more than 15 years. Lightfoot who last November turned 81, discovered the material for the album in his home office. Initially, these tunes were recorded in late 2001 and early 2002. But before anything could be released, Lightfoot had an abdominal aortic aneurysm that nearly killed him. After unearthing the old recordings, he decided to re-record the tracks, using his guitar only.  “I thought my fans would be interested in hearing what songs sound like when first written,” Lightfoot stated. According to this fansite, Lightfoot vigorously toured throughout last year and as recently as February. His tour schedule also shows many dates between March and June, which have all been rescheduled to later in the year to due COVID-19. Lightfoot has been active since 1958 (that’s an incredible 62 years!) and released his eponymous debut album in January 1966. According to Wikipedia, Solo is his 21st. Here’s Do You Walk, Do You Talk. Lightfoot still sounds pretty compelling.

Nadia Reid/Oh Canada

Nadia Reid is a 28-year-old singer-songwriter from Port Chalmers, New Zealand. Somehow her name sounded familiar and I had an idea, so I checked Aphoristic Album Reviews, and surely enough Graham covered her before, among others in this post from last October titled The Ten Next Best Singer-Songwriters Ever. Oh Canada is from Reid’s third album Out of My Province that came out on March 6. She released her debut Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs in March 2015. Not quite sure what it is about this tune, but I like it. Reid’s vocals are definitely part of it. Check out the official video.

The James Hunter Six/I Can Change Your Mind

James Hunter is an English R&B and soul singer-songwriter who has been around for 30 years. According to his website, he’s worked on the railway, busked in the streets of London, provided backup vocals and guitar for Van Morrison, played clubs and theaters all over the world, written scores of original songs, and recorded some of the most original and honest rhythm & soul albums of the last two decades.  By 2006, Hunter was recognized with nominations for a GRAMMY® Award (“Best Traditional Blues Album” for People Gonna Talk (Rounder)) and an American Music Award (“Best New/Emerging Artist”). He and his band then hit the road for a decade of extensive touring and recorded critically-acclaimed studio albums— The Hard Way (Hear Music), Minute by Minute (Fantasy), Hold On! (Daptone), Whatever it Takes (Daptone).  By 2016, MOJO magazine had crowned him “The United Kingdom’s Greatest Soul Singer.” Somehow, I missed all of that, but I’m glad Hunter is now on my radar screen. I Can Change Your Mind sounds like beautiful old-fashioned soul. The vocals are pretty amazing. I can some Sam Cooke and Otis Redding in there. Check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; GordonLightfoot.com fansite; AllMusic; YouTube