Eric Bibb is one of a small number of elite blues musicians of his generation that define contemporary blues music. Along with Keb’ Mo’, Otis Taylor, Guy Davis, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood and a handful of others, Bibb has assumed the mantle from the great Mississippi Delta artists of the early 20th century and the post-World War II Chicago-based musicians. Among the hallmarks of this younger generation of artists has been a respect for history and an admiration of their musical forebears.
For Bibb, the connection to the past came naturally, since he was born into a kind of musical aristocracy. His father, Leon, was a prominent folk singer in New York City and his uncle, John Lewis, was a jazz composer and pianist with the prestigious Modern Jazz Quartet. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Odetta and Paul Robeson were visitors to Bibb’s boyhood home, and Robeson was Bibb’s godfather. Probably destined to find some niche in the music world, Bibb became fascinated with pre-war blues. A true jet-setter, Bibb’s career has taken him back and forth to Europe, and he has lived in Sweden for periods of time.
After a couple of isolated recordings, Bibb began recording in earnest in the late 1990s, and his discography already includes more than 20 albums. Like his contemporaries, Bibb is no mere country-blues mimic. His music includes many influences. Highlights include 2001’s Painting Signs, 2004’s Friends, 2012’s collaboration with Malian Habib Koite, Brothers in Bamako, last year’s fine Jericho Road.
For Blues People, which borrows its title from Amiri Baraka’s 1963 book about African American musical traditions, Bibb has put together an excellent collection of songs that once again demonstrates his love of music and awe of history. Like Jericho Road, the album includes a number of musical styles. Overall, it has a somewhat solemn tone, especially the heartfelt “Rosewood,” which recounts the tragic Rosewood massacre of 1923 in Florida. There are numerous musical guests. The opener, “Silver Spoon,” begins as a rustic country blues number but transitions into a eerie contemporary blues piece with the addition of Popa Chubby’s electric guitar. Other album highlights include “Turner Station,” “Pink Dream Cadillac,” “Needed Time” with its awesome banjo picking from Taj Mahal and vocals from The Blind Boys of Alabama and Ruthie Foster, his duet with Guy Davis on Davis’ signature “Chocolate Man,” and the down home “Out Walkin’.” But the final three tunes – “Remember The Ones” with its rousing vocals from Linda Tillery, the African-flavored “Home,” and “Where Do We Go” – are by themselves worth the price of admission and create an uplifting finish to this stellar album.
About the author: Bill Wilcox is a roots music enthusiast recently relocated from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia, PA and back again.