As I’ve said before, Eric Bibb is one of the most inspired and inspiring of contemporary blues (and folk) artists. Blues People is yet another offering from the prolific singer, guitarist and songwriter that reinforces that opinion.
Some of my favorites of Eric’s albums are relatively simple productions that feature just him and perhaps another musician or two. Others, like Blues People, are much more elaborate productions with extensive back-up and many special guests turning up on specific tracks.
There is a concept to Blues People as its songs – 11 of which were written or co-written by Eric while four were drawn from other sources – capture snippets of the lives of musicians who have played blues over the past century or so and place them in the context of the times and changing times in which they’ve lived.
|Michael Jerome Browne, Mike Regenstreif, Eric Bibb (2005)|
Among the album’s highlights is “Driftin’ Door to Door,” co-written by Eric and Montreal’s own Michael Jerome Browne, and sung from the perspective of an itinerant musician – perhaps someone like Booker (Bukka) White. Eric notes that Michael’s outstanding slide work on this track was played on White’s own National guitar.
Other highlights from among the original songs are the very moving “Rosewood,” sung from the perspective of a man who survived the hate-motivated 1923 arson attacks and murders in which all of the African American homes in Rosewood, Florida were burned down; “Remember the Ones,” an R&B duet with Linda Tillery that pays tribute to the many heroes of the Civil Rights Movement; and “Dream Catchers,” also sung in an R&B mode by Eric and co-writers Ruthie Foster and Harrison Kennedy, in which they emphatically place themselves among contemporary people continuing the work and legacies of those civil rights heroes.
Among my favorites are several songs not written or co-written by Eric. These include a down home duet with Guy Davis on Guy’s “Chocolate Man,” almost certainly inspired by Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man”; an uplifting rendition of Reverend Gary Davis’ “I Heard the Angels Singin’” on which Eric’s vocals and guitar are joined by Michael Jerome Browne on 12-string, JJ Milteau on harmonica and the Blind Boys of Alabama with their inspiring singing; and “Needed Time,” a traditional gospel song that Eric has previously recorded in several different arrangements. This one starts with Taj Mahal, alone on vocal and banjo, in what sounds like an old field recording before shifting into a multi-layered arrangement with Eric singing lead and glorious harmonies from the Blind Boys of Alabama and Ruthie Foster.
Blues People is certainly among the best folk-rooted or folk-branched albums of the year.