Keb’ Mo’s Bluesamericana grinds and grooves with endless energy. The Nashville resident spoke with CMT Edge about labeling his musical genre, optimism in the blues and his lively new collection.
“The songs are all originals, except one cover,” he says. “It was a year and a-half of different writing sessions. I don’t go, ‘OK, I’m starting a record now,’ though. Life goes by, and all of a sudden it’s, ‘Oh, I have enough songs for a record.’”
CMT Edge: Explain the album title.
Keb’ Mo’: Yeah, Bluesamericana. I wanted to try to describe what my genre is. You know, I feel at home in those two genres, so I just put them together. It wasn’t really the title I wanted to use on the record. The lead song is “The Worst Is Yet to Come,” and that’s the most obvious. I thought that’d be a good album title. (laughs)
Tell the story behind writing that song.
It’s a take on the classic blues and being optimistic about a bad day. Optimism is the ultimate goal. It’s like cleaning out of the old and refreshing the new. I start with the classic line, which is the most worn-out line in the blues — “I woke up this morning.” I thought that was very cliché, but I love clichés.
Is optimism generally essential to blues?
It is for me, whether it’s overt, obvious optimism or underlying. In “The Worst Is Yet to Come,” it’s more underlying than obvious. It’s just that for every door that’s closing, another door’s opening up. That’s how I feel when I sing that song. The blues is very powerful and it puts the realness in it for me.
What compelled you to cover “That’s Alright”?
It’s just blues at its best. It’s the basic of the blues, a classic blues. He broke down my bed and left my woman on my floor. (laughs) He goes, “That’s all right. I know you’ve got another man, but that’s all right.” It’s just some good, old juke-joint blues that I wanted to record.
You’ve said the album is the “beginning of the next phase of who I am.” Explain.
It is, personally. I think this is the beginning of my maturity, so to speak. I think I’ve come of age late in life. … I don’t want to be too adult and get stuck in my ways, but I feel like I’ve grown up a little bit at 62. Don’t grow up too quick, but I think now’s a good time for it. Next year I’ll be 63, which is three times 21. That’ll be my third 21st birthday, so maybe I’ll have myself a beer.
How do these songs represent your evolution as a songwriter?
My job is to look for something truthful. The truth digs right inside me, and it reaches other people. If a song is truthful, the way the songs on Bluesamericana are, I have a piece of that song inside me so I can always deliver it from the heart.
The song “For Better or Worse” is about being mature in a relationship. “Move” is a fun song, just a bar song. “I Feel Like I’m Gonna Be Your Man” is just one of my best, my best blues song ever. I just feel really happy about the record. It’s kind of a personal “yay” for me. Now, we’ve released it, and we’ll see if anyone else likes it. (laughs)
Tell the story behind writing “The Old Me Better.”
That song just came out. It took about 20 minutes to write it. “The Old Me Better” is a humorous way of looking at the fact that maybe it wasn’t better than it is now, but it sure seems like it was at certain times. It’s just what you feel after being married a long time. I’ve been married a long time to three different women. Not all at the same time, though. (laughs) That song was a lot of fun.
Describe working with the California Feetwarmers on that track.
Yeah, the California Feetwarmers. I was cutting that song in Nashville, and I went out on an excursion to L.A. on some business. I went to a party while I was out there, and this band walks in and went into the backyard and started playing. They’re the California Feetwarmers. They just had the sound I needed for that song.
You asked them right then to play?
No, I found them online later and got in touch with them and asked them if they wanted to play on the track, and they agreed. I sent them the file, and they put down the track and sent it back to me.
It turns out that the bandleader is a Nashville native. So, during the Christmas holidays, he came to me, and we sat down and went through and cleaned it out and took out what we didn’t need. That song was a really big collaboration. They’re a great band. Really great band.