Thursday, March 4, 2010

Eric Bibb -- Booker's Guitar

Booker’s Guitar

Three years ago, I wrote in the Montreal Gazette, that if there’s a more inspiring, or inspired, acoustic blues artist than Eric Bibb working today, I’ve no idea who it might be. Eric’s magnificent singing, his deft guitar work and his original songs can’t help but make anyone feel better about life.

I still think that.

Eric’s new album, Booker’s Guitar, is a back to basics set. Of the 15 songs, six feature Eric playing solo. The superb harmonica player Grant Dermody is the only other musician on the other nine songs – and, boy, do I like hearing Eric in this context. Thirteen of the songs are Eric’s originals, all steeped, some way or another, in the folk blues tradition. He also does superb versions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

The album opens with the title track, a partly-spoken, partly-sung piece inspired by Delta blues pioneer Booker (Bukka) White and by Eric’s getting to play a National steel guitar that had been owned by him. Eric plays the guitar on the track. (A personal reminiscence: In 1974, as a 20-year-old stage manager at the Mariposa Folk Festival, I got to meet and work with Bukka White, who, by the way, was an older cousin and guitar teacher of B.B. King. He died just a few years later.)

Speaking of B.B. King and his connection to Bukka White, Eric includes a new version of “Tell Riley,” a song he wrote about King’s early days that mentions White. Eric first recorded it on Natural Light, another great album.

Among my other favourites – truth be told, every song is really a favourite – are “Flood Water,” about the legendary Mississippi River flood of 1927 (which has so many parallels with the Katrina flood of 2005); “New Home,” which musically or lyrically evokes “Alabama Bound” and “Michigan Water Blues,” both done back in the day by Jelly Roll Morton; “Walkin’ Blues Again,” a song inspired by the use of music by the early blues musicians to cope with the overt racism and exploitation they faced. Obviously, from the song title, there’s a nod to Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues.” There’s also a great verse inspired by “John Henry”; and, “Turning Pages,” about the joys of reading books.

As I mentioned, the only other musician is harmonica master Grant Dermody. Grant’s playing is always creative – I especially like his use of chromatic harmonica on “Flood Waters” – and complements Eric’s singing and playing beautifully. Eric and Grant’s playing together is some of the finest guitar-harmonica duo work since Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were in their prime.

--Mike Regenstreif

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