Keb' Mo' - Just Like You 
Music Disc Reviews SACD
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Tuesday, 21 January 2003


artist:
Keb’ Mo’

album:
Just Like You
format: SACD surround, Stereo
label: Sony Music 2003
release year: 2003
performance: 8
sound 9
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano

There is no question that both high-resolution audio formats clearly focus on appealing to Baby Boomers as their target audience. While there are some great examples of new mixes to groovy old albums (Dark Side of the Moon on SACD and Yes’ Fragile on DVD-Audio, for example), Keb’ Mo’s Just Like You offers the SACD-empowered audience the chance to hear the powers of Sony DSD audio technology on a more modern recording with music that has wonderful bluesy appeal that speaks to their most coveted listeners.



Keb’ Mo’ is a blues man and arguably the most important musical product from Compton, California since Dr. Dre. Keb’ Mo’ doesn’t rap nor does he have a little whiny white guy as his protégé, but he can perform a wide variety of blues songs, ranging from Robert Johnson-esque acoustic numbers to B.B. King-like jams to large-scale gospel-type songs that harken back to tunes done by Lyle Lovett. Keb’ Mo’s voice is his calling card. His vocals are dry yet powerful. His guitar speaks second and it speaks very loudly. Whether it is a National with a slide or a Les Paul, Keb’ Mo’ is a very capable blues man who can cover all the bases.

Just Like You is a non-hybrid SACD (it won’t play in a CD player like the hybrid discs) that plays in both stereo and surround on an SACD player. I spent nearly all of my time listening to the surround mix of the album, which is an adventurous mix that refuses to color inside the lines, resulting in audio feats I have never heard before from a surround mix. The overall sound of Just Like You is stellar. It is a warm, open and resolute modern blues recording. There is wonderful layering in the original mix, allowing for the chance to try some out-of-the-box mixing for the surround sound option for SACD.

The opening track “That’s Not Love” has that nouveau Eric Clapton sound with multiple guitars and harmonica, plus slide guitar. That leaves lots of ammunition for a surround sound mix and the engineer starts off conservatively with the mix, working some of the less important guitars into the rears. The sing-song chorus finds the female backup singers beaming from the rears. The overall sound of the track in surround is very pleasing. Like any good blues song, the next note is rarely a surprise, which allows for Keb’ Mo’ to really take the spotlight that he deserves.

“Perpetual Blues Machine” is a more stripped-down blues tune, which features Keb’ Mo’ and his guitar, allowing for the lyrical content to take front stage. The surround mix for this track is one of the main factors that kept me from giving Just Like You a 9.5 to 10 for sound (quite a rarity by AudioRevolution.com standards). This track has Keb’ Mo’s guitar coming from the rears when the only musical elements in the song are Keb’ Mo’s vocals, his guitar and a harmonica. Your brain tells you all of these sounds should be positioned in the front of the soundstage. Having the guitars mixed into the rears is a mistake in this case, challenging the listener to focus on the lack of believability of the mix instead of the music. With more artistically out-there music like Pink Floyd or Yes, I will critically allow more room for crazy mixes. With a blues album, this was just a poor decision.

“I’m On Your Side” shows another level of Keb’ Mo’s range as he puts together a B.B King-esque jam that works far better in surround. His electric chops sound tasty and his chord changes work as well together as peanut butter and chocolate. The best mixes on the record come on the more complex tunes, which let the engineer place all sorts of accompanying musicians subtly around the 360-degree soundstage.

The title track “Just Like You” is a bit sappy in terms of songwriting, but it works well with Keb’ Mo’s VH1 audience. Keb’ Mo’ gets some nice star power on this album from Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, who show up for guest vocal appearances on the track. The tune sounds smooth and warm and could be used to show off the powers of the SACD format at its highest levels. This mix is respectfully more about the guest performances than the surround mix.

After the down-tempo and heartfelt title track, Keb’ Mo’ picks the mood up a bit with another basic yet funny blues track entitled “You Can Love Yourself.” This track reminds me of some of the songs that recording engineer Tim Duffy did when he was archiving the performances of the last living original blues musicians. Duffy’s recordings taught me that these elderly performers still have their mojo working in terms of lyrical content, and “You Can Love Yourself” shows that Keb’ Mo’ also learned the same lesson. He adds another feather to his cap by successfully taking on another blues genre and making it his own.

Keb’ Mo’s Just Like You as an album makes the SACD format sound about as good as you are going to hear by today’s standards. The SACD Just Like You makes you wonder how anyone can still listen to CDs with its warm, open sound and creative surround sound mixes. If you were picking out your first five SACD titles to take home with a new player, I would strongly recommend that almost everyone take this disc to the register. It is a guaranteed winner both sonically and in terms of performance.











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