Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

The Storyteller

| August 1, 2006

In an era when blues records lean toward the pseudo-authentic, Keb’ Mo’s Suitcase (Epic) pretty much tells it like it is. Singer-songwriter, poet, and multi-instrumentalist Mo’ combines the traditional with the contemporary employing Dobros, mandolins, and National Steel guitars with Hammond B3’s, Latin percussion, and electric guitars to tell our stories.

Suitcase begins with “Your Love,” a poetic love song with a gentle reggae beat. In “The Itch,” which follows, Mo’ (whose real name is Kevin Moore) gets Shakespearean. A prayer couched in a song about the evils of lust, Mo’ begins, “Heavenly Father up above/have mercy on me.” He beseeches the Almighty to make sure he doesn’t end up in another seven-year relationship based on lust. The chorus, “You get the fever/you get the itch/you forget about the mess you’re in/you forget about the money, the lawyers and the pain/and do the same damn thing all over again,” is very similar in sentiment to Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 129,” a poem about lust that ends “All this the world knows well/yet none knows well/to shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.” The all-star lineup on this Latin-inflected tune includes drummer Steve Ferrone, Sir Harry Bowen, and Sweetpea Atkinson on background vocals.

“The Itch” is followed by “Eileen,” a story about an encounter with a weeping woman in a bar that results in a magical night spent riding the subway with the promise of desire ultimately unfilled. “Remain Silent” is a contemporary take on the cheatin’ woman blues sung over a reggae backbeat with the chorus, “You have the right to remain silent/you know you’re guilty/don’t even try it/don’t lie/I won’t buy it/just walk away/and remain silent.” Keb’ Mo’ channels Taj Mahal, an early influence, on “I See Love.” The title track puts a clever spin on the traditional “gonna pack my suitcase and walk on down the line” type of blues. The suitcase refers to the baggage we all carry: “I got a suitcase I take it everywhere I go/it’s just a big old bag of trouble/trouble is all I know.” The song takes on contemporary overtones with the words, “She put her hand on her hip and she told me to leave/and take my suitcase and get on out of that door/you’re gonna hear from my lawyer/I can’t take it anymore.” Blues Music Award winner Paul Oscher, who played with Muddy Waters in the late ’60s, blows harp on the track.

Mo’ adds some raunch on the midtempo shuffle “Whole Nutha’ Thing,” a passionate “ode” to everything woman. “I’m A Hero” has a countrified feel and features Greg Leis on pedal steel and Jeff Paris on Wurlitzer. Mo’ wrote the closer, “Life Is Beautiful” (a Mississippi John Hurt inspired love song), with Canadian singer-songwriter/guitarist Colin Linden, an equally eclectic musician.

Suitcase is the Grammy-winning Mo’s most personal album to date. In a brief video on his Web site he talks about his intention in making music that eschews the commerciality. His intention, he says, is to “share love, share ideas, share humanity and share hope with the world.” Being on a major label doesn’t hurt, but Mo’ is a gifted performer who has taken a creative approach to keeping the blues vital.

NEW RELEASES: Incendiary singer/guitarist Bill Perry and producer Popa Chubby provide a nice mix of funk, soul, acoustic blues, and psychedelic guitar licks on Don’t Know Nothin’ About Love (Blind Pig). Perry found his way to the blues through the rock of Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, and Johnny Winter, and his blues favorites include Albert Collins, B.B. King, and especially Freddie King. The title track is a foot-stomping acoustic number, accompanied by Perry’s gritty vocals. Other tracks include The Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion,” a funked-up version of “Hello Josephine,” and the smokin’ original “Down In New Orleans.” Perry is not for the faint of heart . . . Early Fleetwood Mac guitarist, Elmore James devotee, and former cult member Jeremy Spencer is back with Precious Little (Blind Pig), a mellow album recorded in Norway with native musicians. Spencer performs selectively these days, mainly on the basis of prayer. He claims to have consulted with the Lord before jumping into this project and got the divine green light. Spencer is in top form on Precious Little, featuring a range of tunes that encompass blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and folk. Fans of early Fleetwood Mac will reminisce about Elmore James tunes “It Hurts Me Too” and “Bleeding Heart.” Spencer also includes a fine reworking of “Corina, Corina” entitled “Serena, Serena” . . . Stevie Ray Vaughan fans might like Working Man (Blind Pig) by contractor-by-day, Albert Cummings. Sorry folks, nothing new here . . . More houserockin’ music from Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, a tight unit whose members have been together for more than 20 years. On Rattlesnake (Alligator) Ed burns through a variety of high-energy slide numbers and some slow, deep blues. He ventures into country on the moving “Tramp On Your Street,” by Billy Joe Shaver. Ed appeared at the Chicago Theatre with Conan O’Brien during the May broadcast of “Late Night With Conan O’ Brien” and attempted to teach the talk show host how to play guitar.

NEWS: Congratulations to Bettye LaVette who is the recent recipient of the *Rhythm & Blues Foundations’ Pioneer Award. LaVette is enjoying a career resurgence after 40 years in relative obscurity. Her performance at this year’s Chicago Blues Festival was one of the highlights of an otherwise tame and somewhat uninspiring main-stage lineup . . . Mavis Staples has been awarded a National Endowment For The Arts (NEA) National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts. Go Mavis!

– Beverly Zeldin-Palmer

Category: Columns, Monthly, Sweet Home

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