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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Good-Time Folk Blues From Keb' Mo'

June 20, 1996|STEVE APPLEFORD

Looking to anyone like a shiny new Robert Johnson in his tie and wide-brim hat, '90s bluesman Keb' Mo' arrived at the House of Blues on Tuesday to make blues-based music that was often inspired but other times frustratingly drab.

For most of his 90-minute concert, Keb' Mo' (a.k.a. Los Angeles-born Kevin Moore) was a warm, diverting presence, clearly committed to creating crisp, well-played classic and modern blues. Mixing good humor with energetic playing on acoustic guitar, Keb' Mo' turned songs such as "You Can Love Yourself" and the B.B. King-styled "Dangerous Mood" into raw expressions of love gone sour.

It wasn't music to burn down the house, despite his admiration for Johnson's old devil blues. For Keb' Mo', it was just enough to make some good-time folk blues, blended with jazz and pop to make it go down easier. At least Keb' Mo' and his backing quartet played with occasional fire. That spark is almost entirely missing from his new "Just Like You" album, which is drenched under an unfortunate layer of studio syrup. (His acclaimed debut, 1994's "Keb' Mo'," was a far more raw and effective recording.) He played most comfortably on Tuesday in the warmest of hues, far from the musical danger and emotional revelation of the best blues.

But even in the softest of settings, the guitarist would emerge with a stroke of brilliant slide playing that kept things from being hopelessly mired in the middle of the road. It was moments like these that brought Keb' Mo' closest to the blues immortals that have inspired him. Look forward to the Keb' Mo' live album.

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