Those who were disappointed in the slick, blues-free approach that made Keb’ Mo’s previous release so bland will be pleased to know this follow-up three years later is a substantial improvement. Despite the singer/guitarist’s early affiliation with Robert Johnson, his albums have been more informed by an easy on the ears pop/blues/soul mix that hewed too close to snoozy to have much bite. But putting “blues” in caps for this release’s title is an indication of how he has retreated to the music that first put him on the map in 1994. While no one will mistake this for Muddy Waters or even Mo’s old mentor Taj Mahal, it’s encouraging that the album’s only non-original is from deep bluesman (and Waters sideman) Jimmy Rogers as opposed to a less than convincing Eagles cover from 2008’s fuzzy The Reflection.
Lyrically, Mo’ puts his smooth vocals to work on a few socio economic issues in the banjo assisted “The Worst is Yet to Come,” and “More for Your Money,” the latter stripped down to Mo’s skeletal bass and guitar, with brushed drums mandolin and errr…cello. The rest concerns matters of the heart and life changes, in particular the singer’s somewhat uneasy maturing which he confronts head on in the peppy New Orleans Dixieland horn enhanced “The Old Me Better,” guaranteed to be smile inducing. Mo’s pop blues is especially effective on “Somebody Hurt You,” a near perfect combination of genres that while far from earthy, sports a stylish Robert Cray styled guitar solo. Ditto for the glossy but never too sugary “I’m Gonna Be Your Man” featuring a taut resonator guitar solo that tears a slight edge in the song’s affable shuffle. And give the multi-talented Mo’ credit for getting somewhat down and dirty by overdubbing himself on bass, slide and electric guitar, organ and harmonica on a perfectly credible version of Rogers’ blues standard “That’s Alright” assisted by Steve Jordan’s always in the pocket drums.
It’s clear that Mo’ put his heart into these tunes and even if they’re not as rootsy as the album’s title suggests, this is a warm, relaxed and enjoyable set that creates an effortless and natural blues/soul groove.