Friday, November 12, 1999


Keb' Mo' a spellbinder

Enquirer contributor

        Keb' Mo' will tell you he's no blues purist. If that's not enough there was material proof throughout his two-hour show at Miami University-Hamilton's Parrish Auditorium Wednesday night.

        A purist wouldn't drop a line from the Ohio Players song “Skin Tight” (“You're a bad bad misses, in your skin-tight britches”) into a rendition of Muddy Waters' “I Can't Be Satisfied.” Nor would a purist tell the crowd, “this is one of those moments you wish you were (soul singer) Johnnie Taylor,” as he prepared to belt out a verse.

        If Keb' Mo' — short for Kevin Moore — had only done straight blues, the enthralled sellout crowd of 450 probably wouldn't have been so into it. “I Can't Be Satisfied” and Jimmy Reed's “Baby, What You Want Me to Do” were both well-performed, but it was the self-penned tunes and his joking, loose attitude that the crowd most enjoyed.

        The show was acoustic and solo, except for occasional banjo and guitar accompaniment. The intimacy of the performance made it so much more memorable than his July 23 date opening for Lyle Lovett at Fraze Pavilion. Plus, Keb' Mo' is a better solo performer, if only because he hasn't put together the right backing band.

        Keb' Mo's take on the blues is progressive. Many of his original songs in the show plugged blues themes into the modern middle-class experience. His band at Fraze massaged these tunes in an easy-listening fashion that pushed them toward adult-rock mediocrity. At Wednesday's show, things were completely different. The lone sound of a bottleneck slide note shooting from his acoustic steel guitar or a blast from his harmonica gave songs new life.

        His musicianship was top-notch, but as a songwriter he sometimes struggles to nail down the hard, plain-spoken blues like Muddy. Considering he's from Compton, Calif., and not the Delta, it's understandable.

        On the other hand the blues has taught him to sing of experiences true to himself, like the autobiographical “More Than One Way Home,” about growing up in Compton. The song painted a rosy picture — apparently life in the CPT isn't much different from anywhere else. It's more proof that we shouldn't believe everything we see in the movies or hear on N.W.A. records.


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