Keb' Mo' has gotten a bit of flak now and again for being a crossover blues artist, but with three Grammys in his pocket, he gets the last laugh. Like Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, and his contemporaries Alvin Youngblood Hart and Corey Harris, he uses the blues as a template for a musical vision that includes jazz, funk, rock, R&B, and pop. It is perhaps that last category that causes much of the carping; still, there's no denying the blue heart at the center of his art, or his expertise as a songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, and showman. Mo' left Sony Music in 2004 after a decade on their various labels, and Live & Mo' is his first album for his own Yolabelle label. It's a solid outing that blends a few choice items from his back catalog with new tunes cut both live and in the studio. He opens the set with "Victims of Comfort," the ironic blues tune that was one of the highlights of Keb' Mo', his 1994 debut. His jazzy guitar fills and the subtle drumming of Kevin Moore II add to its laid-back feel. "Perpetual Blues Machine" is a Chicago-style kiss-off to a faithless woman, with stinging leads from Mo' and the big B-3 of Jeff Paris dropping plenty of grit into the groove. Mo' shows his folk roots on the swingin' country blues "Hole in the Bucket," which features his multi-tracked guitar, harmonica, and chiming mandolin blues picking. Mo' gets serious on the closing tracks "Government Cheese" and "A Brand New America." "Cheese" is a funky rocker with a catchy staccato guitar figure and Memphis-flavored horns that addresses the plight of the underemployed with his usual wry humor. "America" is an inspirational tune that nods to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. It's a love song to the nation, perhaps inspired by Obama's election, a soulful salute to the land we all love. The children's choir that Mo' tacks onto the end of the track is a bit over the top, but there's no denying the tune's subtle power.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet