Eric Bibb – Blues, Ballads & Work Songs – Opus 3 Records stereo-only SACD CD 221111, 48:21 (2012) *****:
(Eric Bibb – guitar, vocals; Kahanga “Master Vumbi” Dekula – elevtric guitar; Christer Lyssarides – electric slide guitar, mandolin; Roger Ekman – Hofner violin, bass, Vintage 63; Bo Juhlin – Sousaphone; Svante Drake – mouth-percussion, shaker)
Eric Bibb may be a fixture on the Scandinavian music scene, but his roots are firmly established in American acoustic blues. His father was part of the 1960s New York folk scene, and his uncle was John Lewis of Modern Jazz Quartet fame. The family circle of friends included Pete Seeger, and activist/performer Paul Robeson was his godfather. As a teenager, he studied the music of Odetta, Joan Baez, The New Lost City Ramblers and Josh White. He even met Bob Dylan, who advised the eleven-year-old to adopt a simple approach to music.
Bibb moved to Paris and became an acquaintance of Mickey Baker who sparked his interest in blues music. He eventually settled in Finland and released several critically acclaimed albums. Bibb was able to record with heroes like Tal Mahal, Mavis Staples and Charlie Musselwhite establishing his own reputation as an influential global musician. He has received several awards, including a Grammy nomination.
In an effort to pay homage to his core musical influence (especially the 50s and 60s New York folk scene), Blues, Ballads & Work Songs is an inspired collection of acoustic blues. Primarily a solo album (guitar/voice), Bibb manages to weave his fluid picking technique with vocal buoyancy. Many of the selection are standards that the guitarist doesn’t try to re-invent, but celebrate. Opening with “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad”, there is a delicate equilibrium between the 12 string and Bibb’s silky voice. In the liner notes, he acknowledges prior versions of other blues men who inspired him. Another 12 string classic, “John Henry”, draws on a “prison farm” sentiment. Completing the initial trio of songs, “Take This Hammer” is permeated by the influences of skiffle pioneer Ken Coyler, Lead Belly and Leon Bibb. These numbers demonstrate the tenuous dynamics of melodic, rhythmic instrumentation and brooding lyrical context.
Bibb’s guitar work is brilliant, with impeccable phrasing and succinct notation. At times, the actual instruments garner equal acclaim. Switching to a National resophonic, “Candy Man” is a finger-picking delight. On the same instrument, “Goin’ Down Slow” conjures up pure Delta blues. “Stagger Lee” whose r & b covers graced the rock and roll airways seems more compelling as a wistful folk piece. Switching to a seven-string Martin, Bibb pours his soul into Rev. Gary Davis’ cautionary Memphis tale, “Cocaine Blues”. He acknowledges the legacy of Dave Von Ronk as well. The actual tones of the different guitars are precise with full, rich texture. On “Come Back Baby” Bibb utilizes a Danelctro baritone guitar that adds depth to the overall sound.
The final three tracks showcase original compositions with some band structure. “Master Vumbi” Dekula contributes electric guitar on “Honey Pie”. This shading and nuanced rhythm approximates township vibes. On “Sophisticated Shade”, the inclusion of sousaphone (Bo Juhlin) and especially mandola (Christer Lyssarides”) has a jazzy swing. Everything works!
Blues, Ballads & Works Songs is a rousing testament to the roots of American music. Eric Bibb is a superb guitarist, vocalist and arranger. Certainly, the hi-res production quality elevates the entire project. The unique tones and auditory range of each guitar is captured with spotless clarity. Minor details like string reverberation of finger sliding (and with a bare minimum of squeaks) are revelatory. The mix of guitar and voice is balanced and complementary. Eric Bibb and Opus 3 Records make a convincing argument for the superiority of SACD music.
TrackList: Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad; John Henry; Take This Hammer; Cocaine Blues; Candy Man; Goin’ Down Slow; Sittin’ On Top Of The World; Come Back Baby; Frankie & Albert; Stagger Lee; Juke Dance; My Honey Pie; Satisfied; Sophisticated Shade
This is a delightful holiday collection.