“The Reflection” is an aptly named album. Keb Mo remarks on his website that “It’s the culmination of all my influences throughout my career”. It can be said that the album is a reflection on the long path that lead Kevin Moore to become Keb Mo, a reflection and love letter to the music and song writing style of the past, and it’s mellow and insanely well-composed tracks make for a perfect soundtrack for some self-reflection on the part of the listener, too.
The record starts very strongly by suddenly dropping you into “The Whole Enchilada”, which as well as acting as a cute “big picture” metaphor also seems to act as a terrific introduction and summation to the album. It creates an atmosphere that’s smooth, incredibly nostalgic and, for lack of a better word, very cool. It’s just cool. The song tells you what this album will be. It isn’t neo-funk, or blues revival. It’s a funk album. It’s a blues album. The following songs contain none of the trappings of a modern funk record (He clearly conscience of the fact that drums can actually be restrained, songs tend to peter out rather than reach an actual conclusion etc.), and a lesser writer than myself would say that this old fashioned approach to song writing ironically feels new and fresh. The reason the album works so completely is that there’s no cynical irony to the wah-wah guitar or the backup singers smiling croons – this album isn’t meant to be a throwback or winking nod to the ghosts of musicians past – it’s an entry into the genre. “The Reflection” seems like a time capsule of an album, like a break-out album taken straight out of the late 70’s. It’s an album that celebrates (but never overtly mimics) its influences and style, with shades of early Gil Scott-Heron being evident on some of the tracks (especially “Inside Outside”). It’s an album that shines in its composition – Keb Mo understands this style of music, he both understands and adores it, and the way he puts these songs together is truly terrific.
All of the tracks feel finely tuned and rehearsed, and the tone shifts and musical twists in each song are carefully plotted and expertly designed. The entire album is an exercise in composition.
The composition (again, it’s important) becomes even more impressive when you consider the many collaborators that appear on the album. They’ve been chosen not for novelty or any other shallow reason, but because the songs genuinely benefit from their presence. The album is so much stronger because of them, and the songs they play on would lose out on their very identity if they were absent. Country Musician Vince Gill’s presence is strongly felt (and strongly appreciated) on “My Baby’s tellin’ lies”, Dave Kaz lends his smooth sax and absolutely makes the song “One of These Nights” (which is a song needed the extra boost in personality) and India Arie lends her voice and her everlasting charm to a really sweet duet in the song “Crush on You”.
With so many artists bringing their a-game, it feels unfair to zone in on a single performance, however, it’s guitarist David. T. Walker’s (who also plays on the tracks “The Whole Enchilada” and “All the Way”) work on the title song “The Reflection” that truly stands out. To use the word yet again, the craftsmanship on “The Reflection” is amazing – Walker brings a wonderfully recognizable blues guitar to the song which compliments the slightly more free form sounding piano perfectly. The song sounds like two masters in their field enjoying themselves, and it’s hard not to get caught up in it.
The love behind “The Reflection” makes it’s a very sweet album – sometimes obviously so. The song “We Don’t Need It” about the support Keb Mo received from his family feels as if it’s been dipped in honey (I swear I’m not a scrooge for criticizing this. Leave me alone). However, the sweetness mostly benefits the record. It’s remarkable an artist attempts something like “The Reflection” with such honesty. Keb Mo is an artist so earnest in what he’s trying to do that simply listening to the album feels as if you’re getting to know him, and of course, respect him.
The only real disappointment on the album sadly comes on the final song, “Something Within”. The backup singer painfully bleats “something within” throughout the song, and whilst it’s obvious they were chosen for the unique sound, it doesn’t seem to work on the song at all. The song also oddly ends with the crying of a baby – I’m sure he has a reason for this song being the way it is, however to me it just feels somewhat jarring and misplaced on an otherwise perfect record.
“The Reflection” is an incredibly strong, terrifically-composed album. It’s smooth, it’s mellow, it’s funky, it’s heartfelt and most of all: its fun. It’s an album that induces smiles, an album that you get caught up in and makes for an incredibly enjoyable listen. After listening to it you’ll feel as though you’ve gotten to know Keb Mo a little, and you’ll be eagerly awaiting his next project.
Will Donelson, Contributor