When Keb’ Mo’ set out to create a new album, he imagined the final product would be an entirely acoustic solo project, not a 10-track album full of guest appearances and named for a state with which he had no personal connection. But in a recent interview with Blues Rock Review, Mo’ explained that he was excited by how the album turned out—and it’s easy to hear why. The collaborators that signed on to contribute were in some cases artists Mo’ never imagined he’d work with, musicians who gave the songs more dimension and complexity simply by putting their stamp on the material. “Put a Woman in Charge” is powerful because of the vocals Rosanne Cash brings to the music, “Oklahoma” wouldn’t be nearly as effective without violinist Andy Leftwich’s contributions, and Robert Randolph’s lap steel guitar adds yet another layer to the title track that transcends what it would have sounded like without it. The songs would have sounded just fine as acoustic pieces—but the path Mo’ chose to take instead is even better.
One of the album’s strongest cuts is its title track, a piece that wasn’t really supposed to be in the mix. Just a couple of songs shy of an album, Mo’ was deliberating over the song ideas he had and kept circling back around to what became “Oklahoma.” “I had this idea about Oklahoma, and I was like, ‘Oh god, Oklahoma—that’s just crazy. That has nothing to do with me.’” But he couldn’t get the idea out of his head, and when a writer he hadn’t previously worked with mentioned she was from the state, Mo’ realized there must be something to the coincidence. Mo’ used the theme as a springboard and watched the song evolve from there as Randolph and Leftwich stepped up to expand the sound, giving it an authentic southern feel.
“Put a Woman in Charge” is another piece that benefited from a contemplative creative process. It was clear to Mo’ early on that he needed to include a woman’s voice on the song, but he wasn’t sure whose voice that should be until a friend of his mentioned Cash. “My antennae just went up,” Mo recalled. Her vocal power is what drives the song, a piece that’s already strong for its lyrical message. The album continues to reward strong guest appearances, with Mo’ reuniting with Taj Mahal for the upbeat, harmonica-happy “Don’t Throw it Away” and Mo’s wife, Robbie Brooks Moore, lending her vocals to the touching ballad “Beautiful Music.”
Oklahoma covers a lot of ground for an album of 10 songs. Mo’ engages with topics like environmentalism, mental health, immigration and more while his guests lend musical support at strategic points to make the songs hit harder and go deeper. Oklahoma is admittedly a far cry from what Mo’ initially hoped it would be. It stands as proof that trusting the creative process, as Mo’ has learned to do through his decades-long career, can reap immense rewards with the right artist steering it along.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– This is My Home
– Put a Woman in Charge
– Don’t Throw it Away
The Big Hit
Review by Meghan Roos