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Keb' Mo' remembers the past and writes to the future in new album 'Good To Be'

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

For the past 12 years, Blues guitarist Kevin Moore has been living in Nashville, Tenn., collaborating with country stars like Rosanne Cash, Bonnie Raitt and Wynonna. But for his latest album, "Good To Be," Moore went back to Compton, the Los Angeles neighborhood where he was raised.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD TO BE (HOME AGAIN)")

KEVIN MOORE: (Singing) Back on the block, back in the hood. Who would have known that it would feel so good? Everybody I know done gone away. But the neighborhood is still the same.

SUMMERS: The five-time Grammy winner better known as Keb' Mo' joins us now from Boston. And if I may say so myself, it is good to be with you, sir. Welcome.

MOORE: Thank you very much. That's nice of you. Nice to be with you too, Ms. Juana.

SUMMERS: So you wrote this album partially in Nashville, partially in Compton in the house that you grew up in. How did that homecoming influence the way that you wrote this album?

MOORE: You know, there I was at home, enjoying a winter time in Southern California in the house I grew up in, which I acquired from my family upon - when my mother passed away. I don't know. I was just in there. It was all nice. I was in there with my wife and our son, who was probably 12 at the time, maybe 13, yeah. Middle of pandemic, so we were just kind of stuck there, getting the groceries delivered. And I was just in it, and all of this stuff came back. You know, I just - it just happened in the most organic way of being in the moment and being - actually being in that place.

SUMMERS: What ultimately brought you to Nashville?

MOORE: Family. It was a family decision to go there and raise our kid in a more suburban, just calm thing and not in the big city. And we live in a quiet neighborhood. And before that, we were living in West LA. But I would never have really went back and got the vibe from Compton had I stayed in LA all that time. I would've just kept moving to neighborhoods like West LA and maybe to Santa Monica and - but because I went to Nashville, when I came back to LA and I, you know, bought the house in Compton, it just - I don't know. It's something I would have never done. It's just great. I have a hard time putting it into words, but it just feels good there.

SUMMERS: Let's listen to another song from the album, "Medicine Man," that I think feels very of the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MEDICINE MAN")

MOORE: (Singing) Well, it looks to me like the end is coming. Feets hurt and my nose is running. Friends and neighbors are dropping like flies. Better cover your face and sanitize.

"The Medicine Man."

SUMMERS: Now, I can make some assumptions about how the song came about. Another line is the president lost, but he don't want to go. How did this song come together?

MOORE: Well, it was just talking about everything that was going in that moment. The election was - had just been finished and Biden had won. We had just - I think just kind of got a vaccine. The president, lost but he don't want to go was a very political kind of like thing to bring up, which I didn't really want to harp on, so that's why I jumped right to, oh, and by the way, Mother Earth, she needs a little help, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEDICINE MAN")

MOORE: (Singing) President lost but he don't want to go. Mother Earth, she needs a little help, you know? Everybody's doing the best that they can. We're all just waiting on the medicine man.

SUMMERS: Now, "Medicine Man" also features Old Crow Medicine Show. And across your album, there are these really powerful, beautiful collaborations with Darius Rucker, formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish. And then there's singer and actor Kristin Chenoweth. What do those collaborations bring to this album?

MOORE: Well, they were people just like anybody else that's on the album - drummers, the bass players. They're just famous, you know? They're part of this - what makes the album work the way it is. But I want to bring light onto somebody I haven't brought light on in other interviews, which is Kingfish Ingram on "Marvelous To Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARVELOUS TO ME")

MOORE: (Singing) I got a hopeful heart, got my head up high. And the future looks marvelous to me. There's a deeper conversation going on in every nation. Joy and jubilation and a way to change the world.

He's this young blues - brilliant blues artist that is just, like, really carrying that thing around full throttle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARVELOUS TO ME")

MOORE: (Singing) And freedom for all.

SUMMERS: What made you want to work with him so much?

MOORE: When I first saw him, like, when he was 16 on YouTube, I thought, wow, this guy is really - he represents, you know, a fresh feeling about life.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEB' MO' SONG, "MARVELOUS TO ME")

SUMMERS: I also wanted to ask you about the song "Louder," which has a similar sort of feel. You look toward the future there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOUDER")

MOORE: (Singing) They're going to fight the fight until they find the answers. They're going to do what we have failed to do. They're going to throw all the cards on the table. It's their life they're giving voices to.

SUMMERS: You seem to be sort of tipping your hat to a new generation there.

MOORE: You know, at one time, I was part of a new generation. You know, in my 20s and in my teens, part of the - you know, the Vietnam War and things against nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants and polluted oceans, and they were talking about it back then. And we were mad at the previous generation because they let that happen, so to speak. And then we became the old generation, and we didn't do anything, you know? So I'm just kind of calling us out - calling everybody out (laughter) so to speak, kind of apologizing to the new generation.

SUMMERS: As you think about the album, "Good To Be," when people pick it up, they listen to it, what message are you sending them? What do you hope that people take away from your music?

MOORE: Well, I hope that they will look at life, too, you know, because that's all I'm doing. I'm just looking at life and responding to it. And I just write it down and make music about it. And it becomes a part of my life that I take with me all the time, so I get to share it with audiences. And what I'm hoping is that it will resonate in a positive way to each person depending on what their take on it is.

SUMMERS: That was Keb' Mo' joining us today from Boston. Thank you so much for being with us.

MOORE: Thank you, Juana. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOUDER")

MOORE: (Singing) And it's going to get louder. It's going to get crazy. It's picking up power, picking up steam. Got a new generation, stronger than steel. They're going to get louder. It's about to get real. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.