Things were going pretty good between Keb’ and me. Listening to his acoustic picking and rustic delta style on Keep It Simple’s opener “France,” I could almost taste the whiskey and smell the stale air of a dark, smoky New Orleans speakeasy. Then I heard it and almost fell out of my chair: “Wake up mama/ Don’t you fret/ I found two cheap tickets/ On the internet.” What? In a mere verse, I found myself rudely dumped back into my own miserable existence in 2004.
My knowledge of the blues has largely been through the interpretations of modern artists. Like Led Zeppelin’s cover of “Traveling Riverside Blues,” The Allman Brothers’ “Whippin’ Post,” or one of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s crushing guitar solos, my familiarity has been largely limited to the electric slide guitar era. Needless to say, hearing Keb’ Mo’s invocation of the ghost of Robert Johnson while making reference to Expedia.com felt a little anachronistic.
Keep It Simple, Keb’s seventh studio release, marks yet another attempt to modernize depression-era delta blues. This has pretty much been Keb’s path to success, lending contemporary sensibility to an otherwise archaic style of music. Throughout his long career, Keb’ has drawn heavily from the legendary Johnson, while still keeping his music modern by throwing in an electric guitar every now and then. But despite such a lofty muse, Keep It Simple rarely rises above mediocrity.
Perhaps it is unfair to compare Keb’ to someone as peerless as Johnson, but Keb’ wants to be Robert so bad that it leaves me no choice. Hell, he even dons a fedora and carries a beat up, antique acoustic.
If the blues are drawn from life experience, then Keb’ has been living within a comfort bubble for quite some time. With few exceptions, the songs on Keep It Simple are surprisingly uplifting, both in their sound and lyrics. Take for example “I’m Amazing,” whose chorus reads, “I’m amazing/ I’m incredible/ I’m a miracle/ A dream come true/ I’m beautiful/ I’m marvelous/ Guess what