Ten years ago on this day, I went to Union Station in D.C. so I could buy a Gore 2000 sweatshirt and some campaign buttons at the political shop that was located there (have no idea if its still in there). After I made my purchases, I walked past the Discovery Channel store on my way out when I heard some of the funkiest blues I had ever heard. It was ear catching and irresistable. I had never heard a song that awesome in a long time. There was even some banjo twang in the song. I consider it serendipitious luck, as that song got me to stop in my tracks, turn around and head into the store. I asked the guy at the cash register what song that was and he pointed to the CD on display: Slow Down by Keb Mo. He said that the song was called "A Better Man." I asked him if the rest of the album was as good as this song and he told me that it was.
It didn't take long for me to decide to buy it. It was a $12 investment, if I remember correctly, or maybe $16. I never bought a blues album before, but then again, I never heard blues this funky nor knew that it could ever be that funky. When I think of the blues, I think of the sad melodies of Ella Fitzgerald or that other lady (can't recall her name offhand). According to the album notes, Slow Down was released in 1998, but I had never heard of Keb Mo until that moment outside the Discovery Channel store at Union Station. If I had not walked past that store at that exact moment on January 22nd, 2000...I may have gone through life without ever hearing his music. Yikes!
When I got back to the apartment in Alexandria, VA, I played "A Better Man" a few times before listening to the entire CD. In fact, I played "A Better Man" constantly that I'm certain my roommates were sick of it by the time our semester ended. Some on the Washington Seminar still associate that song with me because of how often I played that song. When I love a song, I play it repeatedly (I love that CD players have a function where you can play one song on an endless loop!).
My impression of "A Better Man" is that it made a great campaign song and I had hoped that I could find a way to recommend it to Al Gore. That didn't happen, though Gore did pick a Shania Twain song to be his official campaign song (no...it was not "Man! I Feel Like a Woman"). Four years later, though, I had the opportunity to give Howard Dean a copy of Keb Mo's CD and when I gave it to him, I said that "A Better Man" made an excellent campaign song for him. Last year, when Howard Dean was in Portland, I got the chance to meet him again (for the third time) and mentioned the CD, which he then remembered me. I learned that he gave the CD to a campaign staff member who loved Keb Mo (if she loved Keb Mo, though, wouldn't she already have that CD?). He then surprised me by asking if it was okay with me that he gave the CD to someone else. That was thoughtful of him to ask. He also said that it was that CD which influenced him to go to a Keb Mo concert and he signed my copy of his book about health care reform with a "Viva Keb Mo!"
I love how Keb Mo plays an unwitting role in my life. It was his album Slow Down that helped make my Washington Seminar one of the most awesome periods of time in my entire life. It was like a perfect soundtrack to my experience. Other songs I love on that CD are: "I Was Wrong", "Everything I Need", "God Trying to Get Your Attention", and "I'm Telling You Now." The whole CD is strong, though. Not all of the songs are as peppy as "A Better Man," but then again, not many songs have the good vibes and interesting mix of funk and blues as "A Better Man."
Because this album was such a surprising hit to my senses, I went out and bought his previous two releases: 1996's Just Like You, and 1994's self-titled debut. Just Like You is even better than Slow Down, as I liked more of the songs on there: "That's Not Love," "More Than One Way Home", "Just Like You," "You Can Love Yourself," Hand it Over", and the super awesome "The Action" (which described EXACTLY my feelings regarding Jenet, the lady I was interested in during my time in D.C., particularly how I felt on the day she and I met). This serendipity between a few songs of Keb Mo and my personal experience enhanced my view of this musical genius. If two of his albums had a few songs that spoke to my personal experience and feelings unlike any song I had ever heard in my life at that point (there are many songs that touch my heart and resonate with me, but none so deeply as Keb Mo's), then I would have to buy his other ones and see if his music would continue to reflect my experiences in life as they happen.
On his debut album, Keb Mo, the song that most resonated with me was "City Boy" ("I'm just a city boy looking for a home..."). In Autumn 2000, his fourth CD was released, called The Door, and like his previous three releases, I found songs that resonated with my feelings at the time, notably: "Come On Back" (it's about a lady who fell for another guy who mistreats her and he's giving her permission to choose him this time--story of my life!) and "Change" (my life is all about change...well, not lately, though!). 2001's Big Wide Grin is an unusual album, as I think it was aimed at younger listeners and is all about family life. "America the Beautiful" is one of the cover songs on this release and it is a song that I consider to be the true national anthem of our country (I'm one of those people who support changing our national anthem).
In 2004, Keb Mo released Keep It Simple, which featured a song called "France" (I had wanted to vacation in France in 2003 or 2004, but was never able to make enough to save up for a vacation there) and my personal favourite: "Let Your Light Shine." That song would make an awesome theme song for a retreat (I had wanted to use it for my cancelled Young Adult retreat in Spokane / Coeur d'Alene over Memorial Day 2008). Maybe some day. Keb released another CD in 2004 just before the critical election: Peace...By Popular Demand. He sang many cover versions of popular protest songs like "For What It's Worth", "Imagine", "Get Together", "The Times They Are A-Changing", and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Impact on the election? Nada. He wasn't the only one who tried to wake people up. Steve Earle, Eminem, Green Day, and John Fogerty all released politically themed albums that year in an effort to wake people up to vote smart.
Finally, in 2006 was Keb's last release, called Suitcase, which I found hilarious because it was the year I had quit my job in Atlanta to move west, taking as many things in my suitcases as I could. My favourite song on this album is "Remain Silent," which is a not-so-subtle critique of the Bush Administration, particularly regarding the un-Constititutional USA PATRIOT Act. There's another song (either on this album or the previous one) in which he sings directly to George W. Bush and its hilarious, because he's singing as though one could have an actual meaningful and reasonable conversation with the most stubborn and immature president we've ever had. I can't help but imagine that Bush would only stick his fingers in his ears and say, "nah-nah-nah-I can't hear you!" if anyone tells him something that contradicts the way he views the world.
According to Keb Mo's CDs available to buy on Amazon.com, he did release one last year, Live and Mo', which I never knew about because I haven't seen it in any of the music stores I frequent. Looks like there are four new songs and six live versions of songs from his previous albums. Maybe its time for a box set of all of his songs. I'm not a big fan of blues, but with Keb Mo's style, its hard not to like. No matter the circumstances in one's life, Keb makes everything sound alright and how can one go wrong with a Keb Mo song playing in the background?