Keb’ Mo’

It’s a little over 2,000 miles from Compton to Nashville, but drop the needle on Keb’ Mo’s captivating new album, Good To Be, and you can make the trip in a cool three-and-a-half-minutes flat.

“I’ve lived in Nashville for the last eleven years,” says Keb’, “but Compton has always been my home. Finding a way to connect those two places on this album was a powerful thing for me. It felt like something I needed to do.”

Written partially in Nashville and partially in the Compton house Keb’ grew up in, Good To Be is a celebration of roots and resilience, of growth and gratitude, of hope and memory. The songs here draw on country, soul, and blues to forge a sound that transcends genre and geography, weaving together past and present into a heartwarming tapestry spanning more than forty years of sonic evolution. Though Keb’ worked with a wide variety of collaborators on the project—country legend Vince Gill produced three tracks, while famed producer Tom Hambridge (B.B. King, Buddy Guy) helmed several more, and special guests like Darius Rucker, Kristin Chenoweth, and Old Crow Medicine Show appear throughout—it remains a deeply cohesive work, one anchored by the five-time GRAMMY winner’s magnetic vocal delivery and relentless optimism. “It’s good to be here / It’s good to be anywhere,” Keb’ sings on the album’s easygoing title track. “It’s good to be back / Good to be home again.”

 “I believe that music has the power to heal,” Keb’ explains, “and I wanted this album to make people feel good. I wanted it to bring joy and make them maybe think about where they come from and the journeys that brought them to where they are.”

For Keb’ Mo’, that journey began nearly half a century ago, when he landed his first major gig in Papa John Creach’s band at the age of 21. Over the course of the next 20 years, Keb’ would go on to establish himself as a respected guitarist, songwriter, and arranger, and though he recorded a one-off album in 1980 under his birth name, Kevin Moore, it wasn’t until 1994 that he would introduce the world to Keb’ Mo’ with the release of his widely acclaimed self-titled debut. Critics were quick to take note of Keb’s modern, genre-bending take on old school sounds, and two years later, he garnered his first GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album with Just Like You. In the decades to come, Keb’ would take home four more GRAMMY Awards; top the Billboard Blues Chart seven times; perform everywhere from Carnegie Hall to The White House; collaborate with many including Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, The Chicks, and Lyle Lovett; have compositions recorded and sampled by artists as diverse as B.B. King, Zac Brown, and BTS; release signature guitars with both Gibson and Martin; appear in and compose music for films and TV shows like The Blues, Mike and Molly, and Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl; and earn the Americana Music Association’s 2021 award for Lifetime Achievement in Performance. NPR’s Mountain Stage hailed him as “one of the most decorated living blues artists,” while The New Yorker raved that “few musicians emblematize the blues like Kevin Moore,” and The New York Times praised “the subtle twists of his songwriting” along with his knack for “facing down desolation with a grin.”

“I’m happy with my success and grateful for my career,” Keb’ explains, “but I’m still breathing and I’m still hungry. I may be about to turn 70, but I’ve got no interest in slowing down. I’m out there going for it every single day.”

Good To Be is proof of that. While some of the material here was written as far back as the early ’70s, other tunes were penned just months ago in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Keb’ off the road for more than a full year. Working both in Nashville and in Compton, where he recently purchased and renovated his late mother’s house, Keb’ often found himself reflecting on the idea of home, contemplating what it means to belong and what it takes to stay true to yourself.

“You can’t bring an attitude to Compton,” says Keb’, who enlisted the famed Compton Cowboys for the “Good To Be” music video. “You can’t pose. You can’t be anything but real when you’re walking down the same streets you used to ride your bike on as a kid. In a lot of ways, coming back there felt like it completed me.”

Once the songs had been assembled, Keb’ set up shop at his home studio back in Nashville, where he cut the bulk of the album live and in the moment. From there, he began fleshing out the performances with horns, strings, backup singers, and the record’s many special guests. Some—like Rucker and legendary Freedom Rider Rip Patton, who at one time lived next door to Keb’ in Compton and sadly passed away before the album’s release—stopped by the studio to record in person, while others—like Chenoweth, Old Crow Medicine Show, bassist Marcus Miller, and guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram—contributed their parts remotely.

“This album is where I’m at right now,” says Keb’. “It might not fit neatly into a certain category (even though the music biz and algorithms like to keep me tightly in the blues genre). Don’t get me wrong: the blues is a very important part of my experience, but it’s not all of who I am musically. Years ago, I drove around in LA delivering flowers and listening to some of the greatest Nashville artists on the radio, and now that I’ve lived here a while, it’s probably shaped me even more. So the album might be ‘all over the place,’ but the common denominator is always going to be me."

Indeed, Good To Be manages to integrate a broad range of sounds, bouncing from funky soul and gritty R&B to country twang and tender folk with deceptive ease. The blissful “Good Strong Woman” mixes buoyant vocals and pedal steel guitar as it celebrates the power of true love, while the ultra-smooth “Sunny And Warm” channels a summer day in SoCal with its breezy guitars and Latin percussion, and the mischievous “Medicine Man” splits the difference between Appalachia and the Delta with its back porch fiddle, banjo, and harmonica. The arrangements here are lifted and airy, rarely seeming to touch the ground as they ruminate on commitment (“So Good To Me”), friendship (“Lean On Me”), joy (“’62 Chevy”), and emotional intimacy (“Quiet Moments”). Even when Keb’ tackles weightier topics like the environment and social justice on tracks like the tender “Louder” and stirring “Marvelous To Me,” he still manages to hone in on the light at the end of the tunnel, insisting on hope and faith in the face of doubt and struggle.

“No matter what, I’m going to maintain my optimism,” Keb’ reflects. “I’m going to maintain my peace.”

Ultimately, that’s what Good To Be is all about: appreciating what you’ve got, where you come from, and who you get to share it with. “It’s good to be you / It’s good to be me,” Keb’ sings with an audible grin. “It’s good to be young / Good to be old / Good to be home again.”