Among the numbers on blues and Americana man Keb’ Mo’s latest album, “Moonlight, Mistletoe & You,” is one that hits pretty accurately for many adults this time of year — the jazzy “Christmas Is Annoying.”
Sample lyric: “I remember caroling and sledding down the hill / Skating on the pond; you know it really was a thrill / But now the feeling’s gone and all my credit cards are maxed / I’m running here, running there, no time to relax ... Annoying, annoying / They advertise the whole year long.”
Mo’ and co-writer Elaine Dempsey penned it as a joke, he said, but the best jokes come from reality.
“Now Christmas season starts after Halloween,” the singer, songwriter and guitarist, born Kevin Moore, said. “So it’s like, after Halloween, Christmas is on. It used to start after Thanksgiving. Now they’ve tacked on another month to Christmas, and it’s just weird.”
“Moonlight, Mistletoe & You” dropped on Oct. 18.
“That makes me part of the problem, absolutely,” Mo’ said. “Guilty as charged.”
His upcoming show at Rocky Mount’s Harvester Performance Center, set for Wednesday, is at least more seasonally appropriate. Mo,’ on his “Jingle Bell Jamboree” tour, will play songs from the new record. He was never keen to make a Christmastime album (he does have a holiday EP to his credit) or do a seasonal tour, but with a collection of original songs and covers that grew organically, “like weeds,” he said, it seemed like a good time to do both.
“I didn’t want to make a cheesy Christmas record,” he said.
He had written a bunch of holiday-themed songs over the years, but one of the best on this album needed an attitude adjustment to make the album. The song in question is “When the Children Sing,” and he wrote it with onetime country/pop star Mac Davis. When they wrote it, the title was “Let the Children Sing.” Davis loved it, but Mo’ said it was “a tad too dark.”
“I never put it out,” he said. “I thought it was too dark for children, [focused on] gang violence and neighborhoods where children couldn’t go out and play anymore. I took it and turned it into more of a Christmas song, and it really worked. Totally lightened it up. Now it’s got a chance to be heard every year.
“The good thing about a Christmas album, it gets a shot every year.”
Another number, “Better Everyday,” isn’t even really a Christmas song, Mo’ said. In fact, the shuffle-grooving ditty with a horn-powered melody, which he co-wrote with Shamil Bakhtiyarov and Gary Nicholson, feels like a beach music hit.
“We made that song, and it just felt so good,” Mo’ said. “It just felt like Christmas, even though it’s not a Christmas song. I felt like it had that spirit that you want around Christmas.”
Go to this story at roanoke.com/entertainment/music to hear it.
Others, including the lushly swinging “One More Year With You” (Beth Nielsen Chapman co-wrote it) and the title track, which features saxophonist Gerald Albright, are absolutely Christmas-y. So are the covers — Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” Charley Jordan’s ragtime “Santa Claus Blues” and Koko Taylor’s “Merry Merry Christmas” included.
“I started looking for covers, and ‘Merry Merry Christmas’ ... just jumped out,” he said. “Now it’s getting cool. That’s a record. That’s it. Get it out. Now we’re going on a Christmas tour, like I said I’d never do.”
Is this the beginning of a tradition? “Let’s see how the first one goes,” Mo’ said. “Let’s see if I get any rotten tomatoes thrown at me.”
He has played the Harvester multiple times since the venue opened in 2014, so it’s not so likely he’s drawing a ’mater-flinging crowd at this point. He’s unlikely to find those crowds anywhere he plays. Mo,’ 68, has been in the music business since the 1970s, releasing records under his stage name since 1994. He has four Grammy Awards, the most recent in 2017 for his “TajMo” album collaboration with Taj Mahal. He released two albums this year. “Oklahoma” was the first, and it went to No. 2 on the Billboard blues albums chart and No. 7 on the publication’s Americana/folk albums list, according to Billboard.com. “Moonlight, Mistletoe & You” went to No. 1 on the blues chart.
After all that work, he’s not ready to think about a new album, he said.
“I don’t have a plan,” he said. “But I feel what I should do is … something different, rock the boat, something that’s new, get out of my comfort zone. It will probably piss everyone off, piss my fans off. I think every now and then you’ve gotta piss your fans off, for your own good.”
Until then, it’s about feeling good at the holidays.