Keb' Mo': That Hot Pink Blues Album

Hot Pink essentially proves that all Keb' Mo' albums should be live albums.

Keb' Mo'

That Hot Pink Blues Album

Label: Kind of Blue
US Release Date: 2016-04-15
UK Release Date: 2016-04-15

That Hot Pink Blues Album is a snapshot of Keb' Mo's 2015 tour, featuring performances of 16 songs from stops in nine different cities over the course of two discs. The stages range from Sturgis, South Dakota, all the way to Kent, Ohio. The structure is devoid of clutter -- the only thing backing him is his typically terrific touring trio that features Michael B. Hicks on keys, Casey Wasner on drums, and Stan Sargeant on bass. And the crowds, predictably, fill in the space between the notes where silence might sit on any studio recording.

Why? Because you'd be a twit to argue there's any good reason whatsoever that any Keb' Mo' album shouldn't be a live album.

What makes the man born Kevin Roosevelt Moore such an essential voice in contemporary blues is that his blend of blues is so concise. Only one of these tracks stretches beyond the eight-minute mark (which is a feat, considering how this is a live blues record, remember) and at least three songs here don't even reach three and a half minutes. He knows what he likes and he likes what he knows. And he's damn good at it.

Damn good.

Just spin this version of "Somebody Hurt You" to hear why. Shuffling with a mid-tempo blues backbone, Hicks's organ adds all the accompaniment Moore needs in order to gamely stretch out for a few minutes with his Clapton-esque taste that provides flavors of torture and grace, all within his six-string. As the crowd mildly erupts while the guitarist fades his soloing down, you almost begin to wonder if the audio just doesn't give the performance as a whole proper justice -- visuals might be mandatory. The track is laid-back in the most powerful ways.

The same traditional formula can be found on "France" and "Rita". Both are charming yet essential to the Keb' Mo' equation. One minute, he's pleasing his woman by finding "two cheap tickets to France on the Internet" before endearingly reciting "parlez vous francais" to a whistling crowd, while the next, he's declaring, "You know what I would do if she would take me back/I'd go running back." It's a combination of humility and amiability that isn't seen as much as it should be in 2016 blues.

Moore's secret weapon, however, continues to be his versatility. The blues might be his vice of choice, but let there be no doubt that the 64-year-old still knows how to groove. "Government Cheese", taken from a Wheeling, West Virginia concert, is straight Steely Dan, complete with synthesizing keyboards and a warm guitar tone that helps fill out the performance with weight. Sure, the crowd might acknowledge Hicks's trippy soling, but the true hero of the track is Sargeant with his slap-happy bass. The turn from forlorn to funk shouldn't be nearly as easy as these guys make it sound.

Ditto for "Come on Back", which feels like it might sound best through an FM radio at about 1:30 in the morning on a muggy summer night as part of some '80s flashback mix that caters to R&B. The performance is subtle in nature, the verses quietly accessible, but once it opens up for some vintage Keb' Mo' soloing, there's no doubt about who you're hearing. Echoing out with backing vocals and Range-without-Hornsby guitar noodling atmospherics, it adds up to something smoother than the top of a brand new pool table.

Eccentricity continues to be omnipresent on songs like "Life Is Beautiful", which is led by an acoustic guitar and continues to be made for an adult contemporary audience, and "The Old Me Better", which leans toward the South and is cute as hell, especially when the kazoo kicks in. "She Just Wants To Dance" also allows some killer slide action to creep in underneath a honky-tonk piano before the crowd participation takes over and damn it if you don't want to book a trip to West Hampton, New York, right away.

Most all of it takes a backseat to the collection's centerpiece: an eight-and-a-half minute version of "Dangerous Mood" that only grows in intensity as the countless woo-hoos from the crowd consistently fade into the background, their presence essential to the feel of the production. "You can even call me stupid / That's right I did what I had to do," Keb' intones during the second verse, and man, welcome to the Blues. The thing eventually blossoms into a white-hot jam that wouldn't be out of place at any Crossroads Festival ever, and it more than serves its purpose as a reminder that this guy is still one of the best players in all of the genre, mainstream or not.

Truth is, Kevin Moore has always been one of the best players in all of the genre, mainstream or not, dating all the way back to when he first started working with Papa John Creach in the 1970s. Perhaps That Hot Pink Blues Album's biggest accomplishment, though, is the mere reality that it plays like more of a victory lap than it does a cash grab, or some wayward collection of live material whose sole purpose is to help maintain an artist's reputation. Dude doesn't need any help; he's always been -- and always will be -- one of the unsung heroes of the gray area that marries blues and funk. If anything, this set should remind the young cats that they best not rest because Keb' Mo' has still got it. In person or in the studio, his is a standard for which all young bucks ought to strive.

Hot pink? Hot damn.


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