Friday, February 06, 2009

“I See Love” / Keb’ Mo’


Happy-in-love songs are one thing when the singer’s a teenager (or a pop star pretending to be a teenager). At that age you’re so primed to fall in love, it’s easy to gush and swoon and think this is your once-in-a-lifetime soul mate. But when somebody who’s clearly been around the block claims to be in love for the first time—well, then I sit up and listen.

Keb’ Mo’s weathered blues voice sounds like the Voice of Experience. But he isn’t singing the blues in this song, which you'll find on his 2006 CD Suitcase; no, it’s a softshoe shuffle, dolled up with some bluegrassy riffs. There are not one but two instrumental breaks, the first one all whistling and deftly-picked banjo, the second a Dixieland-style clarinet solo—it’s so light-hearted and joyous, you can’t help but tap your toe and hum along.

Right from the start he gives us his sadder-but-wiser credentials: ““I been high, I been low /I been everywhere I wanted to go / But I never been here before.” That paradox – the world-weary virgin – is the string along which this whole song vibrates, and the stuttering, staggering rhythms of these verses suggests how out-of-sync all his worldly experience has been. It’s like the song’s running away from him, as he hastily crams in extra lyrics – “I was so damn close, if it was a snake it coulda bit me / Crawling right under my nose / Baby I must admit it, / That I really didn’t git it.” One thing I love about Keb’ Mo’ is how he takes retro blues conventions and interjects totally modern details, in lines like “I been all around the world, even outer space” and “I’ve had money, cars, and some good champagne / But your love’s much better than all them things.” Beneath that sophisticated pose, he’s a lovable loser, someone we can all identify with.

The heart of this song when it relaxes into its gloriously mellow, tuneful chorus, where words become irrelevant: “La la-ba-di dah / La la-ba-di dah / How could I have been so blind?” Unfurling exuberantly up the scale, the “la-di-dahs” come off like a Dixieland brass riff, especially with the reediness of Keb’ voice. He’s exulting in his own happiness, and he just has to give it to us one more time: “Cos now you got me singing / La la-ba-di dah / La la-ba-di dah / For the first time in my life / I see love.” If you don’t know what he’s talking about, that’s because you’re still on the other side of things – you haven’t yet seen love.

There may be chatter and patter in the verses—where he’s dealing out all the near-misses of his life history--but once he swings into this chorus, everything is clear, upbeat, and straightforward. That’s how love solves, simplifies, and changes your life. And now that he’s got it, it’s blissfully clear that he’ll never go back.

I See Love sample

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