Keb' Mo' likes blues to have shades of gray

CorrespondentDecember 7, 2012 

Keb' Mo'.

COURTESY OF MEGHAN AILEEN SCHIRMER

  • More information Who: Keb’ Mo’ When: 8 p.m. Thursday Where: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham Cost: $29-$54 Details: 919-560-3030; www.carolinatheatre.org

At 61, Keb’ Mo’ feels he has a responsibility as a performer to be, well, responsible. “I try to be reliable,” says Mo’ (real name: Kevin Moore), on the phone from his Nashville home base. “I try to be consistent. I look at it as a huge responsibility.”

As one of the most in-demand blues singers/guitarists working today – his list of accomplishments includes winning multiple Grammys; collaborating with such artists as Eric Clapton, Tracy Chapman and the Dixie Chicks; even having one of his songs serve as the theme to the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly” – Mo’ is a blues artist who appeals to all people.

“Maybe that’s true,” says the L.A. native. “I’m easy to digest, you know. I’m not hardcore. Like, I don’t play a really loud guitar. I kind of write songs that people can relate to, and I try to put it in a way where people used to listening to records that are sonically not heavy-handed and hard to listen to.”

His last album, 2011’s Grammy-nominated “The Reflection” (his first studio album since “Suitcase” in 2006) had him continuing to make music with a relatable, easygoing appeal. “Well, I try to make it appealing to everybody,” he says. “I try to make it so that the down-home feeling gets in there, and there’s a lot of different ways to get to it musically, you know.”

There is obviously a blues influence in “Reflection,” but you can also hear Mo’ dabbling in the sort of folksy soul usually associated with artists like Bill Withers and the late Terry Callier.

“It’s fun to just switch up and explore all that stuff and, then, go somewhere else, you know,” he says. “It’s very fulfilling for me as an artist.”

Mo’ insists that wasn’t what he had in mind for the album. “I wasn’t trying to do a certain kind of record,” he says. “It’s just that’s what was coming out at the time. I mean, you do a lot of blues and a lot of things and, then, you get to a place and you just start doing that. It’s really weird, you know.”

As much as Mo’ likes to shake it up as an artist, he also respects those who go about shaking it up in the blues scene, such as current critical darling Gary Clark Jr. The Austin actor and guitarist – who appeared with Mo’ in the 2007 John Sayles movie “Honeydripper” – has been getting buzz for his latest release, “Blak and Blu.”

“Gary is a very serious artist, and he is coming out – as people expect him to be – the second coming of all blues or something, you know,” he says. “But he’s actually a diverse artist and has a lot to say, and he’s from a new generation.”

Much as Mo’ played around with different sounds on “Reflection,” Clark shows off his eclectic tendencies on “Blak,” which Mo’ is sure ruffled the feathers of blues purists.

“People always have this kind of feeling about what blues ought to be,” he says. “But if you look at Gary Clark Jr., that is the future of the blues – and that’s where it going. Ultimately, Mo’ admires any blues artist who, much like himself, is attempting to expand and elevate the blues soundscape while still remaining respectful to the genre. After all, Mo’s music may not sound like B.B. King or Howlin’ Wolf, but there will always be blues buried deep inside. “Like, I try to make it so that it gets into the culture of what’s going on right now, you know,” he says. “It’s like the history – past, present and future – of the blues.”

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