Keb’ Mo’ has the blues — whether he likes it or not.
The Nashville-based singer-songwriter determinedly went “the furthest out I’ve ever gone with my music” on his 2011 release, “The Reflection.”
It’s smoother, more melodic and R&B-based than his previous work, which hailed from rootsier and, yes, bluesy directions.
And sure enough it was nominated for a Grammy Award — for Best Blues Album.
“That was really a surprise to me,” says Mo’ (real name Kevin Moore), 60, who’s won three previous Grammys. “I know people voted for me in the Grammys, in the blues (category), not even hearing the record. Once you’re in that club then you’re in that club and you don’t get to visit any other clubs. You can do whatever you want, and it’s OK to do something else, but I’m still gonna be blues.”
But, Mo’ adds, he’s “comfortable with that” and feels that he’s in pretty good company, too.
“Even when Herbie Hancock did ‘Rockit’ back in the ’80s and got real funky, it was still jazz,” he explains. “Ray Charles, even though he did a country record, it wasn’t like they ever thought of him as a country artist. B.B. King has done different things, but B.B. King is the blues.
“I can handle that. I come from (the blues) and it’s where I feel most at home. I just wanted to try to take it somewhere else this time.”
In fact, the Los Angeles-born Mo’ — who released nine previous studio albums and has collaborated with Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, the Dixie Chicks, Marcus Miller and others — says he “knew everybody would hate” “The Reflection” when he put it out, though he acknowledges that “I always go into everything ready for the worst.”
But he was well aware of how far afield he was moving with the album, up to and including a cover of the Eagles’ “One of These Nights” and the new single “We Don’t Need It,” whose new video is being played on Country Music Television (CMT).
And he recognized how jarring it might be for his cult-sized fan base.
“I wanted to do something that was honest but uncharacteristic for me, because I always believe it has to be real,” Mo’ explains. “Overall, I’m glad I did it, and I found out a lot of things about me and my audience. I found out how open-minded they are. I found them to be very willing to go along with me on a journey, which is really what you want as an artist.”
Mo’ isn’t sure yet where he’ll head stylistically, but he’s already “thinking about” his next album, which he hopes to be able to release sooner rather than later after taking five years between “Suitcase” and “The Reflection” — with a live album in between.
“I want to get right on it,” says Mo’, who anticipates hiring a producer after handling “The Reflection” himself. “I don’t want to wait another four, five years. I waited a little too long this time. I don’t want to do that again. I want to come right on out with something really cool.”
On his plate in the meantime are guest vocals for upcoming albums by Spyro Gyro and Jerry Douglas, and Mo’ just appeared on the 50th episode of Daryl Hall’s “Live From Daryl’s House,” singing five songs from “The Reflection” and a version of Hall & Oates’ “Everything Your Heart Desires.”
And Mo’ is moving forward with his own Yolabelle label, recording singles with other artists that he hopes will to turn into compilations or perhaps even full albums for them.
“My company doesn’t have a big budget to work with, so we’re going to start out and do things that don’t break the bank, start small and build it,” Mo’ acknowledges. “It’s kind of like the old days. No one got an album deal in the ’60s; you got a single deal, and if your single sold, then you made an album. I think that’s a pretty good, solid model for these days, actually.”
Keb’ Mo’ and Anders Osborne perform Friday, Jan. 20, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $39.50. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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