Blues For The House Of Blues

The blues­­that foundation of American music forms­­is

kind of funny these days. Blues music doesn't have much focus or drive,

and it's no longer clear exactly what, aside from stereotypes and history,

is holding it together. Lots of modern blues music is static and cliched.

There's always another young guitar-slinger trying to step into Stevie Ray

Vaughn's shoes (Kenny Wayne Shepard, this year), and probably scores of

forgotten almost-legends (Arthur Alexander one year, Howard Tate the next)

to be resuscitated by the reissue departments of the big record companies.

The real-roots blues of the delta will come and go (Corey Harris and Alvin

Hart are leading the current wave; delta veteran R. L. Burnside just

release a fine new record on Matador), while acts like Little Milton and

Tyrone Davis will keep the chitlin' circuit alive, playing to mostly

middle-aged blacks. Despite all the activity, it's remarkably predictable;

maybe like the recent spurt of articles in the mainstream media suggest,

it will indeed take a mass media conglomerate like the House Of Blues to

finally build a blues resurgence that will really have a lasting effect.

And that's kind of where Keb' Mo' (the stage name of Kevin Moore) fits in.

Not that Just Like You is a groundbreaking blues

album­­it isn't­­or has any connection to the House Of

Blues­­it doesn't­­but it's indicative of the

direction the blues could go. His eponymous debut was one of the

best-selling blues records of the past few years, and Just Like You

will almost certainly match it's predecessor's success. It's a record

that's slick and poppy, authentic enough to get mentions in both the blues

fanzines and the more mainstream press. It lacks the grit and spittle that

is at the heart of many releases, and would fit nicely in a collection

between the K. D. Lang and Lyle Lovett disks. It's certainly not

hard-core.

But even though Just Like You is tone-downed blues, it's toned down

in a magnificently listenable way.. Despite the obvious affectations, the

songs are warm and substantive. They're full of great images and lines,

and are sung by a voice that's earnest and invigorating. While a rootsy

slide guitar is mixed out front, the sound is lush and full like a modern

pop record, but is never overpowering. Accessible and inauthentic: with a

little breakthrough, Keb Mo could be to the blues what Garth Brooks is to

country music.

Also like Garth, there's more than a little touch of sensitive-guy

singer-songwriter in Moore­­the "Fire And Rain" of James Taylor

is nestled in here somewhere. The probing of the opening track "That's Not

Love" isn't the menacing prowl it would be if sung by, say, Z. Z. Hill,

but is a calm and rational approach to decaying relationship. "More Than

One Way Home" has a multi-leveled and Zen-like interpretation that would

suit the Jimmie Dale Gilmore songbook just fine. Moore never hits the

sensitive-guy pap or anthemic overstatement that overruns Garth's records,

but he does stray from the traditional blues mindset: the obvious pop

smarts and positivity of songs like "I'm On Your Side" threatens to

contradict with his image of a travel-worn bluesman. "The Action" and

"That's Not Love" are pop songs, through and through, and given the

success of the recent bluesy chart hits by Tracy Chapman ("Give Me One

Reason") and the Tony Rich Project ("Nobody Knows"), they stands a chance

of actually being heard on the radio.

And while the rehashing of "My mother says she loves me, but you know she

could be jivin' too" from "You Can Love Yourself" will make yuppies grin

and purists wince, and any new song titled "Standing At The Station"

ought to reek of blues cliche to everyone, the forlorn and jazzy cover of

Robert Johnson's "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" is a real winner. "Dangerous

Mood" is plenty haunting, and the closer "Lullaby Baby Blues" is sweet and

soulful. The guitar playing is refreshingly relaxed­­because it

lacks the over-the-top tendency of so many blues guitarists, it

complements the songs nicely.

There's been much discussion about the recent launching of the House Of

Blues music clubs chain­­will desire for profits overcome the

music? And while the jury's still out on that one­­complaints

about validity and authenticity should certainly be taken with a

substantial grain of salt­­I can't help but think that good as

Just Like You is, this is what the blues will sound like if the

House Of Blues takes over.