Eric Bibb – Natural Light – Manahaton Records (2003)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2014) – stereo vinyl

Eric Bibb – Natural Light – Manahaton Records (2002)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2014) PPAN018 audiophile stereo vinyl, 43:41 ****:

(Eric Bibb – guitars, Stella 12 string guitar, vocals; Janne Petersson — B-3 Hammond organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, piano, organ, accordion; Dave Bronze – doublebass; Martin Ditcham – drums, snared kick, brass washboard, percussion; Hubert Sumlin – guitar; Amen Comer/Simon Clark/Roddy Lorimer/Tim Sanders – horns; Henry Spinetti – drums; Steve Donnelly & Robbie McIntosh – guitar, slide guitar; Bjorn Gideonsson – percussion; Kjell Segebrant – guitar; Michele John-Douglas/Marion Powell – vocals, handclaps)

Modern blues purveyors had to follow two generations of blues masters. The social and political landscapes had changed significantly, altering the cultural trajectory. However, Eric Bibb was able to sustain blues integrity and incorporate contemporary recording and composition. With a godfather like Paul Robeson and family friends like Pete Seeger, his awareness of social conditions was ingrained. Bibb moved abroad to pursue a career. He recorded with Swedish label Opus 3 Records (his 2011 SACD Blues Ballads & Work Songs was reviewed here). But his association with Manahaton Records (which he helped form in Great Britain) resulted in the most prolific catalogue.

Pure Pleasure Records has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of the 2002 Bibb crossover album, Natural Light. With some expanded arrangements and instrumentation, there are several blues-based tracks (mostly original compositions) and some pop/r&b material/roots. Bibb has acknowledged the album’s focus on a variety of genres.

Opening Side A is a soulful groove with a modern narrative, “Too Much Stuff”. Bibb’s indelible baritone is still vibrant and smooth, making it a natural fit with soul music. The jaunty song has tasteful horn accents and Bibb (who is fluid on guitar) is joined in a two-pronged guitar attack by Hubert Sumlin. “Home Lovin’ Man” brings a vampy, jazz feel (aided by Janne Petersson on piano), but still maintains its core. Bibb’s vocals are eloquent. Gospel is front and center on “Tell Riley”. Bibb’s 12-string combines agreeably with Robbie McIntish’s National Steel, adding a layered texture. Guitar bliss continues on “Guru Man Blues”. Upbeat (not a blues staple) and festive, the track features adroit finger-picking and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Bibb is an accomplished songwriter, and his performance excels on those. There are covers (including Randy Newman’s sentimental “Every Time It Rains” from the Bad Love album) that take advantage of the plaintive tonality of the voice, but don’t have the same emotional impact.

Side B taps into some r&b funk on “Water Works Fine”. With a harder edge, Bibb and McIntosh heat up on electric while Petersson contributes honky-tonk piano runs. A ruminating folk song (“Circles”) is rendered with a simple guitar/voice/piano arrangement and it reflects the singer’s emotional range. On the straight-ahead gospel rocker, “Right On Time” interesting touches like accordion give the song a zydeco shading. “Gratefully Blue” is classic late night, slow-dance with a dulcet vocal take. A certain highlight is “Lucky Man Rag”. Bibb’s nimble 12-string play is dynamic in its expression, rhythm and innate timing. Houston residents will appreciate the Fannin Street reference. Bibb takes a gamble on the finale choosing to do a version of Jackie Wilson’s iconic “Higher And Higher”. Rather than matching soul licks with a legend, he interprets it like a folk rock opus, but still with soul.

Pure Pleasure Records had done an outstanding re-mastering to audiophile vinyl. The aural tonality is rich and captured with both clarity and warmth. The stringed instrumentation (especially 12-string and National guitars) displays vibrancy and deep acoustics. Bibb’s voice is mellow, but the bluesy edge is intact. The gatefold packaging is superior with glossy finish and protected album sleeves. [The Amazon link is only to the CD since they don’t have the vinyl…Ed.]


Side A: Too Much Stuff; Home Lovin’ Man; So Sorry; Tell Riley; Guru Man Blues; Every Time It Rains; Champagne Habits
Side B: Water Works Fine; Circles; Right On Time; Gratefully Blue; Lucky Man Rag; Higher And Higher

—Robbie Gerson

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