Music is a mirror. It captures the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of its creator; it frames and exposes these emotional currents to us, the listeners. And in listening, we realize we’re not alone: There is someone who sees and feels as we do, and who has captured those ephemeral visions in song.
The Reflection is the first new studio album by Keb Mo since Suitcase in 2006. These twelve songs are the product of an important period of personal and professional growth for the artist formerly known as Kevin Moore. In that time, he started a new family; moved from Los Angeles to Nashville; built a state–of–the–art home studio, and founded his own label, Yolabelle International, distributed by Ryko and the Warner Music Group.
Keb Mo is a three–time Grammy Award winner for Best Contemporary Blues Album; and a key figure in the acclaimed 2003 PBS series Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues. But The Reflection is not, in essence, a blues album. In sound and spirit, it’s closer to the work of African–American “folk soul” singer/songwriters like Bill Withers, Bobby Womack, and Terry Callier.
Indeed, tracks like “My Shadow” and “Crush On You” would have fit neatly into Urban radio’s “Quiet Storm” format at almost any time in the past 25 years. The Reflection brings together all of this singular artist’s diverse influences – pre–disco R&B, American folk and gospel, rock, blues, and more – in a sound that is truly and uniquely his own.
“I worked on this record for the better part of two years,” says Keb’. “It took me some time as this was an educational process for me and my engineer John Schirmer. I didn’t want to let it go until I had something that I was proud to share with the public. It’s the culmination of all of my influences throughout my career.”
Through all the changes of the past several years, Keb Mo found time to play a couple of hundred shows on several continents. He composed and recorded music for the acclaimed TNT series “Memphis Beat,” starring Jason Lee and Alfre Woodward. And he wrote some of the best songs of his career for The Reflection – material strong enough to attract such notable guests as country music superstar Vince Gill (“My Baby’s Tellin’ Lies”), nouveau–soul chanteuse India.Arie (“Crush On You”), saxophonist Dave Koz (“One Of These Nights”), and veteran session guitarist David T. Walker (“All The Way,” “The Reflection,” “The Whole Enchilada”).
The Reflection (The Back Story)
By the close of 2006, Keb Mo had released Suitcase – his eighth and final album for Sony Music – and finished months of touring to support it. “I got remarried in 2006, so the next year was about starting a new family and figuring out what the music business had turned into” since his 1994 signing to Sony Music.
“Circumstances gave me some time off from making records, to recalibrate myself, and the next stage of my life.”
An important step in that next stage was the incorporation of his Yolabelle International label and a distribution pact with Ryko/WMG. “I considered a record company to be a valuable tool – I don’t want them to just go away,” Keb’ explains. “But in the past, they were the whole ball game and held the upper hand.
“Now there’s a greater equality – but that means the artist has to step up in responsibility as well and not just put it all on the record company.”
Moving from Los Angeles to Nashville was another major change: “It was really a family move, not a business move. But there were benefits attached to it – more space, for one thing. In my house here, I have a whole production facility with a studio, a lounge, lodging, even parking. It feels much more expansive.”
“The talent pool of musicians here is amazing. Nashville is a smaller town [than L.A.] so there may be fewer players, but with a very high concentration of quality musicians.”
Looking ahead to the release of The Reflection and the live shows that will follow, Keb Mo says: “My audience already knows I’m not a pure blues guy. It’s people who don’t really know me who think that’s what I am.”
“Really, The Reflection is an Americana album if it’s anything. But soul and blues are just as much part of ‘Americana’ as anything else – and that’s the ‘Americana’ of which I’m a part.”
KEB MO TALKS ABOUT SONGS FROM THE REFLECTION
“The Whole Enchilada” (wr. Keb Mo & John Lewis Parker)
This was the first song written specifically for The Reflection. The album’s opening track, it features David T. Walker’s distinctively funky guitar work and call–and–response vocals with singers Alex Brown, Bobbette Hairston, and Phillip Ingram.
“John Lewis Parker and I wrote ‘Just Like You’ [title song of Keb Mos acclaimed 1996 album]. We’ve been playing music a long time together, going back the Papa John Creach band.”
“This one just popped out – it’s about when you actually get the girl of your dreams. How do you maintain that relationship? The work begins when you’ve made that commitment to work through things and go for the long haul. There’s a line in the song: ‘It’s about to get different…’ Relationships are a challenge to find a deeper and better you.”
“David T. Walker is at the top of my list of guitar players I really love. I’ve been emulating him since I was a kid in junior high, but this is the first album of mine he’s played on.”
“My Baby's Tellin’ Lies” (wr. Keb Mo & Vince Gill)
As co–writer and co–vocalist, Vince Gill steps out of his familiar country style and into this track’s modified Stax soul groove. Session veterans John Robinson (drums) and Reggie McBride (bass) are right in the pocket, with keyboard coloration by Jeff Young (Hammond B-3) and Greg Manning (electric piano, synthesizer).
“Vince Gill and I have become friends over the last 7–8 years. We met backstage at the Ryman [Auditorium, in Nashville], probably my first time there. He was standing in the hallway after my show and said, ‘I’d love to do something with you sometime.’
“Now, that is something I’ve heard many times before, and many times it’s gone no further – you just never get the call. But Vince is the kind of person who will keep his word and follow through.”
“The Reflection (See Myself In You)” (wr. Keb Mo & Phil Ramocon)
Keb’ co–wrote the irresistible title track with London–based Phil Ramocon, who’s worked with Jimmy Cliff and Neneh Cherry, among others. (The two met on a Jimmy Cliff session back in the Seventies.) “The Reflection” features the duel guitars of Keb Mo and David T. Walker and Greg Phillinganes’ tasty Hammond organ fills.
“We wanted to write a standard. So we took these lyrics, put chords to it, and constructed the melody one note at a time. Suddenly it’s two years later – Phil’s happy, I’m happy, David T. Walker’s doing this cool guitar thing. It’s a nature song: Sitting by the river, seeing myself as a part of all existence. “And we took it to the jazz place, the blues place with the slide guitar. I really didn’t care about radio play for this song – that’s why it’s seven minutes long!”
“We Don't Need It” (wr. by Keb Mo and Alan Dennis Rich)
In this sad and poignant yet hopeful song, a father loses his job and a family is forced to part with its possessions. The bonds of love and loyalty are tested, but they hold fast. Keb Mo plays acoustic guitar and dobro, while Manny Alvarez supplies the keening lap steel licks.
“’We Don’t Need It’ was not written after the recession hit in 2008. Actually, it was a song I left off of Keep It Simple . Alan and I were writing this song at my kitchen table in L.A. and you could feel [the recession] coming in the middle of Bush’s second term. We were in that paradigm already. You can’t start two wars, lower taxes, and then expect to balance the budget.”
“But I didn’t feel like I really nailed the song when I cut it that time. This time, I slowed it down, made it more acoustic – and it worked.”
“Something Within” (wr. by Keb Mo and Lucie E. Campbell)
One of the most unusual tracks in the Keb Mo canon, the gospel–rooted “Something Within” is a true “family affair” featuring the voices of several generations of the Wyatt and Moore families. The arrangement is by Kevin Moore II, the 23–year–old son of Keb Mo and an up–and–coming writer/producer in his own right.
“The vocal refrain you hear – that’s my grandfather, Roosevelt ‘R.V.’ Wyatt. He died in the late Eighties. But before he went, my Uncle Herm had recorded him on a boom box, singing this old gospel tune song ‘Something Within.’ And my son Kevin Moore II played the military drums and put a little loop on the track. The other voices are my cousin Mark Wyatt, Herm’s son; and Rochelle Rawls, my sister, a granddaughter of ‘R.V.’
“We recorded Rochelle along with various cousins and friends on Easter Sunday 2010 – I hadn’t heard my sister sing since she was 15 years old. But she’d been singing in church and she just tore it up! Basically, the song is a collaboration with Lucie Campbell – one of the first published female gospel composers, who wrote the original ‘Something Within’ in 1913.”