Keep It Simple

I slipped this disc into the player as we were pulling out of Okemos. By the time we got to Webberville, about 20 miles down I-96, my wife had formed her opinion.

“This sounds more like a pop record than a blues album,” she said.

She nailed it. This is a new genre: Bluezak. It’s smooth, inoffensive and ideal as audio wallpaper.

Keb’ Mo’ has always had a pop sheen on his work, but Keep It Simple has taken the gloss to such an extreme that you have to dig really deep to find the blues here. And I think I know why.

Things are going too well for the man once known as Kevin Moore, and it’s tough to sing the blues when you’re this happy. Check “Prosperity Blues,” where Keb’ sings about bills that are paid, checks that don’t bounce, cars that run fine and claims, “I can’t even crack a frown/Since the blues slipped out of town.”

Other songs talk about scoring cheap plane fare to Paris on the Internet (“France”) and the hassles of navigating the menu at the local coffee shop (the title track). And if your biggest problem is finding a small cup of java amid the cappuccino and latte, you ain’t got no right to sing the blues. There’s even an ode to the woman who doesn’t have to change one thing about herself to please him (“Shave Yo’ Legs”).

Keb’ is a great guitarist, however, especially when he plays slide. His voice is warm and friendly and he’s a likable performer. Keep It Simple goes down smooth and easy; it would be a good introduction to a soccer mom who wondered just what this blues thing was all about. But when one of your backup singers is Amy Grant, for God’s sake, your street cred in the blues community ought to nosedive faster than Martha Stewart’s stock portfolio. The Starbucks crowd will probably love this disc, since there isn’t a single rough edge anywhere on the whole album. But take a tip from me, Keb’: Break a string or a leg. Lose a job, lose at love, have bad happen to you. You need to get your blues back, man. It’s just that simple.

E-mail Vic Doucette at [email protected].

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