Acoustic Sounds
Keb' Mo'
By: John French

January 17th, 2024



I Admit It: I Didn't Know Who Keb' Mo' Was Until Now!

he released his first album in 1994 and I thought I knew everything

Keb Mo  was released  in 1994. Good to Be in 2022. One of the frustrating parts of being me is that people who know me (guitarist and Twisted Sister founder) and my history in the music business (and my age—71) think that I must have heard and have an opinion on just about everything (music wise) that was ever released since the 1950’’s! It is even more frustrating when an artist, who seems to have had a long career, especially in a genre that I thought I really knew, is really unknown to me.

Looking at many of music’s genres, sub genres coupled with the geographic locations that I do know: ie. Liverpool, Motown, San Francisco, LA (pick a decade), Brill Building, Northern Soul, Nashville (pick a decade), STAX/Volt, Greenwich Village (circa 1960’s), Max’s Kansas City, Warhol era Lower East Side, Punk (early 70’s), New Wave, Alternative, 'Corporate Rock' , Glam, Classic Rock, Heavy Metal, Pop Metal, Hair Metal. Black Metal, Death Metal, Speed Metal, Fusion, Goth, Rock, Folk Rock, Blues Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Punk Rock, Jazz Rock, Disco, House, Trans, House, Deep House, Rock, Funk, Blues, Prog…(You get it)—how can I know all of this stuff and when I do spend years in one area (say blues) and when I miss something I wonder how the hell did I miss that?

All of this is leading to my latest 'discovery'! The artist, Keb' Mo' (Kevin Moore, nickname Keb' Mo') has just recently pierced my musical radar. He has won 5 grammys but never entered my musical orbit. It's not like I never heard of him. I've known his A&R man, Michael Caplan for 25 years. Michael even signed one of my artists to Sony in 2005 but never mentioned, except maybe in passing, Keb Mo' (or, for that matter, Matisyahu or G Love & Special Sauce who he also discovered).

Michael signed Keb Mo in 1994 to the Okeh-Epic label within 20 minutes of hearing him via A&R man Jack Porter. And released the astonishing debut simply called Keb' Mo'.

That self titled debut album became a staple within some hifi circles as one of those demo albums that just brought out the best in many audio systems. Small ensembles, simply mic’d records, especially blues artists  (think Muddy Waters Folk Singer, Lightnin’ Hopkins Lightnin’, Sonny Boy Williamson Keep it to Ourselves) can do this. Trust me, I know this and when you listen to this album on a good system it will make the system sound great. On a great system it will sound glorious. 

In 2022, I just decided to get into Keb' Mo' so I simultaneously bought 2 Keb' Mo' albums. Unbeknownst to me, one was his 1996 debut album Keb' Mo' and the other was Good To Be, which was his latest, released in 2022.  

This then is an overview of the bookends of the artistic journey of Keb' Mo'.

I have since bought several more of his albums including a curious ‘covers’ album titled  Back by Popular Demand, which I found out about through another conversation with original signer Michael Caplan. That album was produced due to pressure from the label to sell more records.

As simply an artist to enjoy, all of the albums provide a great listen. All are extremely well-recorded and Keb'Mo’s voice is rich with depth and expressiveness.

The material is not the standard 12 bar blues although some of the tracks certainly stem from that standard blues format,

His debut album, simply titled Keb' Mo’ (my copy given the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs treatment) opens with "Every Morning"—a simply recorded acoustic blues track featuring just an acoustic slide guitar and vocal. It's a pure analog recording with the MoFi version predating the digital mastering step controversy and uses the proprietary MoFi Gain 2 Ultra Analog System.

I don't have an alternate LP version and since Tracking Angle is an online resource that covers both music and sound quality let me say that as the album progresses, the instrumentation becomes more involved but in no case does it sound out of place in what is a basic blues album. It just showcases the stretch of the material and track by track the recorded sound remains timeless as if it could have been recorded yesterday. 

This album gets 5 stars on both the sound and the music from me. That's in my rating system. In Tracking Angle's that would be:

Music: 11

Sound: 11

Now, 25 years and probably many tours later, comes the latest release Good to Be. I expected another contemporary blues album but what I got was an ear opener, and, as an artist myself, an unexpected pleasure discovering where another artist needed to go in order to expand his creative base while staying within the bounds of his chosen genre.

Keb' Mo’ has grown from a blues artist into one with a strong Adult Contemporary/ R&B groove. The genre evolution by a 70+ year old singer/guitar player is truly impressive. Good to Be truly defies easy categorization. Is it Blues? Country?, Contemporary Soul? R&B or straight pop?

In truth, it's all of those things (sometimes within a single track) and that's what makes it so special and easy to listen to. I have no idea how his label has tried to market this but I can tell you that I listen daily to at least one track. That is how good the music makes me feel. It’s that simple.

The album is so life-affirming that it feels as if it should have been recorded and released post Obama's first election victory—an album for the hyped ‘post racial America’ world that sadly never really came to pass.

Vince Gill, Darius Rucker, Kristin Chenoweth and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram are just a few of the world class musicians and singers who participated. The one cover—of Bill Withers hit “Lean On Me’—fits seamlessly into the track listing rather than feeling like a calculated addition intended to draw attention to itself.

Picking standout tracks is impossible. It's the first album I've heard in a long time that makes me want to play it straight through every time, aided by the sound, which is as technically fine as any digitally recorded state of the art release in my experience can sound.

I have the vinyl, the CD and via Qobuz, the hi res stream. You do get a little closer to the 'feel' of the music on vinyl, but that's mostly when paying attention to the ‘color’ on some solos of the Fender Telecaster guitar compared to the streaming version.

I give Good To Be 5 stars both for music and sound. In Tracking Angle currency that's:

Music: 11

Sound: 11


  • 2024-01-17 08:12:35 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    Thanks, for the write up John, I have one of Keb's CDs and I agree he's terrific.

    Michael, no disrespect to John, but as I wrote a few months ago, I think Tracking Angle would be well-served by more standardization across the review scores. I do not doubt these are fine albums, but four 11 scores on these? Unless you believe that these albums are in the same stratosphere as Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, Aja, and the Ornette Coleman you just reviewed...

    11/11 should be code for--"Do not bother reading the rest of this review, just go buy the damn thing NOW!"

    • 2024-01-17 09:04:32 PM

      John French wrote:

      It is unfair to only reserve a super score To albums that are exceptional live recordings. There are plenty of live albums that don’t reach sonic nirvana and plenty of studio crafted albums that do. On my reference system, these 2 Keb Mo albums reached levels (imo) of sonic excellence which I believed will be experienced by many of the readers. There are plenty of albums whose music is great but fall short sonically, both live or studio. In the case of these 2 Keb Mo albums they deliver on both counts. I own thousands of records and am confident to recognize the differences and the intentions of the artists and producers. As an example, Twisted Sister albums were produced to sound great on car stereos (super compressed and processed) and are miles away from SOTA hifi

      • 2024-01-18 03:16:53 PM

        PeterG wrote:

        I am not differentiating between live recordings and studio. The ones I listed before are studio. For live recordings, the only one I own that I would rate sonics 11 is Eva Cassidy Night Bird 45rpm (highly recommended). But to use your phrase, a "super score" should be just that. It is not about fairness, it is about transcendence, the creme de la creme. If you are saying that in your view, these Keb Mo albums sound as good as the ones I listed, and if you think his music is in the same very small league as the others, then we agree

    • 2024-01-17 11:06:04 PM

      bwb wrote:

      Music is such a personal thing I don't worry about how that gets rated or over rated, but I agree that I see way to many recordings on this site getting an 11 for sound. . It looks to me like most reviewers here use it as a relative rating comparing the version under review to the versions that came before. Maybe I'm in the minority, but IMO a 10 (or11) for sound should be reserved for the very finest. The few albums you pull out when somebody asks you to show them what your system can do. Reference recordings, the best of the best. An album that sounds so good anybody can appreciate how good it sounds even if not their favorite music.

      Aja is a perfect example. Is the UHQR as good as Aja can sound,? Quite possibly. Is it a recording I would pull out to show off my system to someone who wasn't a diehard Steely Dan fan? No way. Sorry all you Steely Dan fanatics, but it simply is not reference quality sound no matter how much better it is than any previous version.

      I haven't listened to my Keb Mo in a while so this is isn't directed at this particular review, just an overall rant against inflated sound ratings.

    • 2024-01-18 01:38:49 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I don't see how personal taste and judgements can be standardized. I think it best to judge the numbers for each writer based on your personal experience. That way you can judge who's engaging in "rating inflation". There's a wine reviewer who gave a 93 to a relatively inexpensive wine so i tried it. I will never pay much attention to him again!

      • 2024-01-18 03:32:17 PM

        PeterG wrote:

        I agree taste cannot be standardized. I do not dispute the Ornette Coleman 11/11 even though I do not think I would enjoy it at all. I recognize his place in the canon, and I trust you on the sonics rating. But I think it is important to be grading on a curve. I'm pretty sure fewer than 10% of the Fremer reviews are 11/11. That's extremely helpful for us to know--it assures us that an 11 is killer. Just a few weeks ago I bought Jerome Sabbagh on your 10(music)/11(sonics) without a moment's hesitation (and who's ever even heard of this guy!?) Needless to say, just a magnificent listen and one of the best sounding records I own.

        I'd like to be able to do that with other TA reviewers as well. But it strains credulity to think that Keb belongs with Miles, Steely Dan, Trane, etc on music; or is as good sonically as those albums or Vintage.

        There are only a few true 11/11's released per year. We should make sure they do not have to share the spotlight with albums that are merely great

        • 2024-01-18 05:34:23 PM

          Malachi Lui wrote:

          i appreciate you realizing that scores can't exactly be standardized. i can't speak for the other reviewers, but i rate things on a very conservative scale. sound only gets an '11' if it's among the best sounding records i've ever heard from any era. musically, the only album to which i'd give an '11' is my favorite album of all time, brian eno's 'another green world'. even all of my other favorites would only get a 10. but each reviewer has their own interpretation of the scale and readers will simply have to interpret it for themselves.

          and i actually think there are only a few true '10''s for music per decade--per century, even--and hardly any '11''s released anymore. interpret that as you will.

          • 2024-01-18 06:55:44 PM

            PeterG wrote:

            Yes, this is exactly what I'm trying to say--11's should be only for immortals, just a few 10's, 9 is an awesome sounding record...If each reviewer forced themselves to a curve as you describe, even if it was just their own curve, that would probably be sufficient. Thanks

          • 2024-01-19 10:12:09 AM

            John French wrote:

            I thought the sound of the albums were excellent and given my history of being a former high end audio salesman at Lyric hifi ((1996-2001) I learned how to ‘sell’ hear by playing tracks that brought out the best in the equipment. Different strokes for different folks’ comes to mind Having said that, the number 11 was not my choice. I just stated that they were excellent sounding albums. In the future, I will be more aware that the readers of this site have a certain foundational opinion on what constitutes state of the art sound. Interesting that Aja was brought up. As good as that album is it’s not a great audiophile recording. That’s the difference between great musical content and great presentation. I remember Mike Kay, the owner of Lyric explaining what tracks to play on specific systems so they could be sold. The 2 most played tracks at Lyric while I was working there

            • 2024-01-19 10:26:01 AM

              John French wrote:

              Continued…. “After You’ve Gone” (Joe Williams & Friends June 1985 On Delos D/CD by 4004 And “Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan from the album “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” Epic 1984 Currently my go to tracks to show off what my system can do are “I’m Confessin’ that I love You Dean Martin Album Dream of Dean “For Abby” Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters - Album titled “Grateful Heart, Blues & Ballads”

              The air, instrument placement and tonality and vocal representation are as good as I have ever heard. That is my reference for those that care to know going forward

              • 2024-01-19 04:04:17 PM

                PeterG wrote:

                Thanks, John. I really appreciate all of that. Just to be clear on the Aja--I did not mean the original, I meant the UHQR reviewed by Michael a couple of months ago. I do think that's 11/11, but I agree that Steely Dan sonics are often overrated due to the musical content. I have not heard the SRV vinyl, but I know it by reputation and it is on my list. Rock on!

                • 2024-01-24 11:30:36 AM

                  Eugene Harrington wrote:

                  The Stevie Ray Vaughan track 'Tin Pan Alley' from his 'Couldn't Stand The Weather' album is a staple at every HiFi Show I have attended since the late 1980s. I used to hear it a lot at the U.K.'s HiFi News Shows out near Heathrow Airport, London, England during the 1980s and 1990s ... and beyond. More recently, I have heard it at the annual Munich High End Show in Germany. It seems that audio designers and vendors really value this track for its sonic merits and to bring out the best in their audio electronics. Mind you, it does sound very impressive. The original U.S. Epic pressing is plenty good, but if you would prefer something more 'audiophile', the U.K.'s Pure Pleasure Records released an excellent 2LP version in 2005, pressed at Pallas in Germany. I have both editions and they are both well worthwhile. I also like the Keb Mo' album reviewed here. It's another good one!

            • 2024-01-19 10:26:02 AM

              John French wrote:

              Continued…. “After You’ve Gone” (Joe Williams & Friends June 1985 On Delos D/CD by 4004 And “Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan from the album “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” Epic 1984 Currently my go to tracks to show off what my system can do are “I’m Confessin’ that I love You Dean Martin Album Dream of Dean “For Abby” Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters - Album titled “Grateful Heart, Blues & Ballads”

              The air, instrument placement and tonality and vocal representation are as good as I have ever heard. That is my reference for those that care to know going forward

            • 2024-01-19 10:26:03 AM

              John French wrote:

              Continued…. “After You’ve Gone” (Joe Williams & Friends June 1985 On Delos D/CD by 4004 And “Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan from the album “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” Epic 1984 Currently my go to tracks to show off what my system can do are “I’m Confessin’ that I love You Dean Martin Album Dream of Dean “For Abby” Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters - Album titled “Grateful Heart, Blues & Ballads”

              The air, instrument placement and tonality and vocal representation are as good as I have ever heard. That is my reference for those that care to know going forward

  • 2024-01-17 10:09:43 PM

    Anton wrote:

    I love Keb Mo!

    When his first album came out I played it every morning, every evening!

    • 2024-01-18 10:06:17 AM

      Norm Plaistowe wrote:

      I see what you did there

  • 2024-01-17 10:15:21 PM

    Nicholas Paredes wrote:

    I remember buying Keb Mo when it came out on CD at the time. Great album. He was also one of the artists that truly defined live music for me. I walked into a room at the American Music Festival at Fitzgerald’s near Chicago, and Keb Mo was in the middle being filmed singing the National Anthem. It was mind blowing. Such a powerful singer and musician.

    I’m missing the small room experience of local clubs and just bought some tickets for Dry Cleaning today. Live music is a gift when the musicians treat it as such.

  • 2024-01-18 04:46:09 PM

    Jeff D wrote:

    Keb' Mo' played a set during Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Fest that I streamed a couple months ago, good stuff. He also came out and played with Taj Mahal later

  • 2024-01-19 04:22:58 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    Note to self: This John French is the guitar player from Twisted Sister, not the drummer from Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. My wife knew that other John French when she was a kid and he worked at a record store in her neighborhood.

  • 2024-01-23 08:28:47 PM

    Noel Tiplady wrote:

    First time I heard Keb' Mo' was walking down Beale St. in 1996. This music store had "More Than One Way Home" playing out to the street and it just sucked me right into buying that great album "Just Like You" and I've been a huge fan ever since. I was fortunate to catch a solo Keb' live in Brisbane, Australia, where he found the time, after playing at The Byron Bay Blues Festival, to play for all who couldn't make it to the festival. A true blues man.