Kind of blue

Bluesman Keb’ Mo’ at Cincinnati’s Taft Theater

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Keb’ Mo’ will perform on Jan. 29 at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati

Since his 1994 self-titled debut, Kevin Moore has been viewed as a sort of harbinger of the seemingly continuous roots blues revival. While the larger blues community is littered with all nature of young-gun-next-big-thing wunderkinds, Moore, known professionally as Keb’ Mo’, has always dealt in an economical style that acknowledges the past while constantly looking forward.

In fact, he says calling him a bluesman is a bit of a misnomer.

“I don’t think I’m really good enough to be a blues guy,” Moore said. “Howlin’ Wolf is a real blues guy. Bobby Rush is a real blues guy. The newest real blues guy to come along is Gary Clark, Jr. He’s a real blues guy.”

It might be understandable for a casual music fan to assume Moore stands firmly in one genre. After all, he portrayed the king of the Delta blues, Robert Johnson, in the 1998 documentary “Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl” and he has worked with some of the genre’s luminaries, such as Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Little Milton and Solomon Burke, to name a few.

However, a quick listen reveals an artist that is just as comfortable writing a great song as he is rattling off hot guitar licks.

His newest album BLUESAmericana (Kind of Blue Music) features 10 tracks of Moore’s distinctively soulful voice and playing. Blues purists will find plenty to chew on, but the material expands out in a variety of directions. The album’s centerpiece, “I’m Gonna Be Your Man” slides into a jazzy groove complete with a guitar/horn interlude and a driving rhythm courtesy of drummer Keio Stroud.

Moore constantly offers something that seems in short supply in the modern music landscape: honesty.

“I like to base it on truth, which the blues is deeply rooted in,” Moore said. “I think having a sense of humor is very important. The process is always about finding something that is in the moment and that has a timeless relevance to it.”

Songs like “For Better or Worse” and “Do It Right” show vulnerability many artists might struggle to bring to light. Rather than a brash proclamation of sexual prowess or a cocksure attitude, Moore acknowledges fault and strives to be a better man.

The New Orleans bounce of “Old Me Better” speaks of maturation, while lamenting the lost days of late nights and questionable behavior. He moves effortlessly between the sublime and the silly, all the while maintaining a deft balance and cohesion.

While the music touches on several different genres and styles, the fundamental core remains blues based. There’s an old adage that says blues is just as much about the notes not played as the ones that are. Moore thinks the real power of a great song resides in those in those quiet times.

“It’s really, for me, about leaving space for the listener,” Moore said. “If you read a book to someone and you never paused, no one would ever understand what you were talking about. You have to pause so the listener can absorb information. In that space, whether they’re dancing or not dancing, or just listening, in that space is where their imagination is involved and they become engaged with the music. In that space, whatever they’re doing is none of your business as an artist delivering the message.”

The album offers a lot musically, but it also has a chance to make fundamental societal changes.

Five percent of the album sales will be donated to the Playing for Change Foundation, a nonprofit that supports music schools and programs around the world. Moore was featured on the group’s recent album Playing For Change 3: Songs Around the World and has seen the idea grow from its infancy.

Moore has known one of the foundation’s driving forces for a long time.

“Mark Johnson used to be my (recording) engineer,” Moore said. “The whole time he was talking about something he wanted to do. One day, he got a camera and went out on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and started recording musicians. I performed in his videos a lot very early on. I guess I’ve been part of Playing for Change since its infancy. As time went on, I decided to join in a bigger way. I think it’s very important to learn how to give in your life, to learn how to be really comfortable with giving and letting go of things. Let go of a chunk of money and see what happens – it might be good.”

Keb’ Mo’ will perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 29 at the Taft Theatre, 317 E. 5th St. in Cincinnati. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $37.50. For more information, please visit kebmo.com. For more information about Playing for Change, please visit playingforchange.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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