Joy is a commodity that is very often in short supply. In the past few years, it seems even more rare. Maybe that’s because it’s a state of being, rather than a mere emotion, so it takes effort to cultivate and maintain joy in our lives. Anyone who’s ever been in the presence of blues legend Keb’ Mo’ knows that he has found the secret to that state, perhaps thanks to his practice of living every moment as a form of prayer.
Regardless of how he achieved his joy, Keb’ injects it into everything he does, including his latest album, Oklahoma. But that’s not to say he doesn’t see the problems of the world. He very much does. And he’s not shy about voicing his opinions on those matters. He just does so in a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” way, delivering his topical tunes with a wink and a smile.
Take the title track, for example, which was written with Sooner State songwriter Dara Tucker. It feels almost whimsical, though it covers a lot of terrain, from Native American history to Black Wall Street, if you’re paying attention through Robert Randolph’s mystical lap steel swells and the mighty fine fiddling that fills the air.
Keb’ gets even more to the point on other songs, as with his call for female leadership in “Put a Woman in Charge,” his plea for environmental awareness in “Don’t Throw It Away,” and his homage to immigrant hardships in “This Is My Home.” Those tunes feature Rosanne Cash, Taj Mahal, and Jaci Velasquez, respectively, and though they pull no punches, they also land their blows with kindness. Tough love, as it were. Quintessential Mo’.
Oklahoma tells other stories, too, some in a straight-forward blues form, some not… which is also classic Keb’. He also addresses mental health in “The Way I” and true love in “Beautiful Music,” with his wife Robbie joining in on the latter.
Now, as always, Keb’s voice, poise, and joy are welcome gifts to so very many people. And Oklahoma captures all three at once.