Bluesman Eric Bibb is what you'd call a "songster," an antique, quaint term that seems to have been lost these days. Back in the earliest era of the blues, wandering singers had to have knowledge of a wide range of music, from folk songs and ballads to traditional spiritual songs and even the popular tunes of the era. This was literally their bread and butter, as it were, the ability to break out and perform whatever song the (paying) audience requested.
These days, a blues singer might have a large repertoire of songs, depending on how long they've been performing, but the interest of many artists these days doesn't seem to extend past a handful of well-worn blues and soul cover tunes. Not so with Bibb who, throughout a lengthy career that has spanned five decades now, has managed to retain a childlike glee and fascination with music of all styles from around the world. By bringing such a deep reserve of history to the table, Bibb's original material reflects the rich musicianship of those that came before even while sometimes taking these influences into unexpected directions. Recorded in Louisiana, Deeper In The Well is Bibb's first studio album since 2010's Booker's Guitar, the disc presenting the listener with a wealth of acoustic, blues-based Americana.
Eric Bibb's Deeper In The Well
"Bayou Belle" opens the album with an appropriately languid, bluesy ambiance, Bibb's slowly-drawled vocals matched by a lazy fiddle lick and jangly instrumentation. The song is a simple romantic ode, but the soundtrack is anything but, the complex arrangement concealing multiple instrumental strains hidden in the mix like a bird in a cypress tree. The performance hews close to the swamp, capturing the feel of the Louisiana heat and humidity in the song. Bibb's cover of Harrison Kennedy's "Could Be You, Could Be Me" is a close musical approximation to the album-opener, evincing the same sort of hazy Southern soul with a fine vocal performance.
On the other hand, "Dig A Little Deeper In The Well" travels down the road apiece, the spry performance capturing more of a Piedmont blues vibe with Bibb's jaunty acoustic strum and Grant Demody's lively harmonica playing. Colored, perhaps, by Bibb's recent marriage, the lyrics are a father-to-son message on romance and relationships, advice that remains timeless in any generation. Bibb's take on the traditional "Boll Weevil" mixes traditions somewhat, the song firmly rooted in the Mississippi Delta, but delivered with a potent Appalachian influence that Bibb manages to bring into the 21st century with an energetic performance. The song is a particularly strong showcase for both Bibb's elegant fretwork and Demody's hypnotic harp.
The great jazz singer Nina Simone's inspired take on the traditional "Sinner Man" is the standard by which all others must strive, and Bibb's reading of the well-traveled spiritual certainly comes close to trumping Simone's version. Bibb's sonorous vocals sit atop tortured fiddle riffs, the guitarist adding filigree strings beneath the mix, accompanied by blasts of harp. It's the one truly somber moment on an otherwise somewhat lighthearted collection of material. Bibb's original "Music" is another fine Piedmont-styled moment, his warm vocals dancing fleetly above an upbeat guitar strum, Bibb singing "music is more than a style or a fashion, it's all about the soul 'an the passion, if I feel it – that's good enough for me." It's a great sentiment, and a truth that Bibb has pursued across a lengthy and often musically eclectic career.
The upbeat "Movin' Up" offers some sly but timely social commentary, Bibb singing "we're all in the same boat, sister, you know it's true, gotta help one another, like the ol' folks used to do," the singer concluding that "if we're not movin' up, we're sinkin' down." The song is delivered with a deceptively catchy melody bolstered by Bibb's energetic fretwork and the band's subtle instrumentation. An inspired cover of Taj Mahal's "Every Wind In The River" doesn't venture far from the original, Bibb's soulful vocals accompanied by a sparse arrangement but some fine guitar pickin', while the beautiful "Sittin' In A Hotel Room" is a lyrical celebration of life and love, Bibb's graceful vocals displaying true joyfulness. The album ends with a hauntingly effective cover of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'," gentle instrumentation supporting Bibb's carefully nuanced, but exceptionally powerful vocals.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
With Deeper In The Well, Bibb has delivered a pleasant and entertaining collection of material that cuts across artificial boundaries of style or genre. This is Americana music, period, in all of its eclectic glory and all that it encompasses – blues, folk, and country sounds that have their roots in the big cities and the rural back roads of the country.
Whether he's bringing his immense musical talents to bear on intelligent original songs, interpreting traditional material, or even tackling a scribe as daunting as Dylan, Bibb never fails to amaze. An underrated singer, songwriter, and guitarist with one foot in the blues and the other in a world of music, Bibb has delivered another gem with Deeper In The Well. (Stony Plain Records, released March 27, 2012)
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