Music

Keb Mo': The Reflection

Blues troubadour turns sweet soul crooner in a not entirely convincing reinvention.


Keb Mo'

The Reflection

Label: Yolabelle International
US Release Date: 2011-08-02
UK Release Date: 2011-08-02
Amazon
iTunes

Keb Mo's 1994 eponymous debut showcased a guitar-playing, blues-inflected troubadour who owed as much to Robert Johnson and Son House as anyone else. Times have changed, though, and Keb Mo' has changed with them, shedding his down-home blues-folk leanings in favor of the slicker soul stylings of recent records such as 2004's Keep It Simple and 2011's The Door. His latest album is a continuation in that vein. The acoustic guitar is scarcely to be heard in this collection, and the blues are an increasingly faint influence. Lush arrangements and soulful crooning are the order of the day.

This is not to say that this is a bad record. It’s enjoyable enough, but it's a far cry from the Keb Mo' that some of us have been carrying around in our heads for the past 15 years or so.

Lead tune "The Whole Enchilada" is an enjoyably smooth, mid-tempo soul tune that features some fluid guitar work and Keb Mo's smooth-as-syrup vocals. It is hampered, though, by a fairly silly chorus that rhymes "Now that you got her" with "the whole enchilada." Really, it's tough to take the song too seriously after you've heard somebody say that a couple times. At least there's plenty going on: between the guitars and percussion, the noodling bassline and vocals both upfront and backgrounded, there is a lot of sonic meat for your ears to dig into.

Such songs are the album's most successful. When Keb Mo' slows the proceedings even further and goes out on the limb of wistful soul crooning, the record wobbles and threatens to collapse altogether. Songs like "Crush on You", the horn-inflected "All the Way", and "The Reflection" bring the listener close to boredom, sounding too much like too many other songs we've heard. Is it just me, or does "The Reflection", with its jazzy chords and free-floating melody, sound eerily like 1980s Stevie Wonder?

Despite these lulls, there is always something with a little more muscle just around the corner to rescue the proceedings. These livelier, or more complex, or just more rocking tunes -- take your pick -- are what saves the record. "Inside Outside" benefits from a quietly urgent bassline and sophisticated percussion, while "My Baby's Tellin' Lies" keeps the classic-soul vibe, but injects a little oomph into his vocals. "My Shadow" ramps up the funky bass a notch or two and is much the better for it. When Keb Mo' brings us songs like these, we're not thinking of him as a bluesman-turned-soul singer; we just think of him as a musician.

Ironically, the back half of the album may be stronger than the front, as there is a good deal more energy on display and fewer saccharine ballads. "Just Lookin'" is a fun uptempo number with elements of funk energy, as are both "Walk Through Fire" and album closer "Something Within."

Longtime fans of Keb Mo' will have to decide whether they want to support the singer's exploration of new musical territory. The production of this album is smooth and balanced, and the singer certainly isn't struggling with the material. Given the vast difference between his earlier work and these songs, though, it may be his fans who are left struggling.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.