SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Keb’ Mo’ – Suitcase – Epic /Pure Pleasure Records – audiophile vinyl

Who says you can’t have happy blues?

Published on April 8, 2012

Keb’ Mo’ – Suitcase – Epic Records (2006) /Pure Pleasure Records (2011) 180 gram audiophile stereo vinyl, ****1/2:

(Keb’ Mo’ – electric guitar, National steel guitar, steel dobro, Pogreba Resonance guitar, vocals; Fran Banish – electric guitar, volume swells guitar; Michael Finnigan – Hammond B-3; Reggie McBride – bass; Sergio Gonzales – drums; kat Dyson – Leslie guitar; Jeff Paris – Wurlitzer electric piano, mandolin; Jon Cleary – piano, Hammond B-3; Paulinho da Costa – percussion; Greg Leisz – pedal steel guitar; The Texicali Horns featuring Darrell Leonard – trumpet, trombonium; Joe Sublett – tenor saxophone; Terry Wollman – electric baritone guitar; Paul Oscher – harp; Steve Ferrone – drums; Greg Tardy – clarinet; John Porter – mandolin; with background vocals by Sir Harry Bowens; Sweetpea Atkinson; Vince Bonham; James Ingram and Vida Simon)

Perhaps Kevin Moore (a.k.a. Keb’ Mo’) is not a traditional bluesman. He maintains a buoyant, almost optimistic mellowness that sets him apart. However, the roots of his composition are based on blues motifs. Starting with the self-titled debut, he covered Robert Johnson and won his first Grammy for his Delta-influenced Just Like You. With two additional Blues Grammys, Moore established his legacy as a modern practitioner of American roots. But his music reflects a comfort level with several types of popular music, including folk, r&b, gospel and balladry.

Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered his eighth release, Suitcase (2006). Moore has reunited with his debut album producer, John Porter. The result is an engaging twelve-track compilation of upbeat music (all original compositions) that has a blues influence, but incorporates many styles. Moreover, the 180 gram conversion has brought a textured auditory vehicle for these songs. Side A opens with a reggae tempo love song (“Your Love”) that takes full advantage of Moore’s fluid vocals and discerning licks on the National steel guitar. As the backing ensemble increases, ‘The Itch” combines keyboards (Jeff Paris on electric piano and Jon Cleary on piano/organ) with additional percussion (Paulinho da Costa) and backup vocals to achieve a medium-tempo, humorous talk with God about the pitfalls of romance. Each cut adds new instruments that change the musical flow in subtle directions. “Eileen” is another Island romp, with Moore contributing an adroit steel dobro line that establishes another feel. The addition of the Texicali Horns (Darrell Leonard on trumpet/trombomium, and Joe Sublet on tenor saxophone) on “Remain Silent” generates a gospel/soul dynamic. The production never overwhelms the natural vocals. The side concludes with a folk ballad (“Still There For Me”) that includes an electric baritone guitar, and a funk-grooved “Rita”. Organist Michael Finnigan shines on many of the tracks, with his tasteful Hammond B-3 riffs.

Side B kicks off with a heartfelt emotional ode, “I’m A Hero”. Again the minor inclusion of a pedal steel (Greg Leisz) enhances the poignancy. Moore has an intuitive guitar technique, especially on his National Resonator. The title song is idyllic acoustic blues with accents on mandolin (Jeff Paris) and harmonica (Paul Oscher). There is an undeniable breezy vibe to this album. Keb’ switches to banjo on “I See Love”, and engages in a “paddleboat” gentle swing arrangement. The unison/wordless chorus and jazzy clarinet solo are nuanced. Fans looking for more traditional blues will be pleased with the “Chicago” horn-laden stomp, “Whole ‘Nutha Thang”. Throughout the album, Reggie McBride (bass) teams with Sergio Gonzales or Steve Ferrone, anchoring the band. At the center of the album is the plaintive vocals and guitar work of Keb’ Mo’. “I’ll Be Your Water”, the lone solo performance, is tender and authentic.

Pure Pleasure Records and their superior technology make this reissue special. Moore’s voice is captured in warm and pure tones. The sound mix is precise and clear. Layers of horns and keyboards never overlap with the guitars (which sound phenomenal).

Side 1: Your Love; The Itch; Eileen; Remain Silent; Still There For Me; Rita
Side 2: I’m A Hero; Suitcase; Whole ‘Nutha Thang; I See Love; I’ll Be Your Water; Life Is Beautiful

—Robbie Gerson

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