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Eric Bibb - Deeper in the Well

Stony Plain Records

13 tracks/50:51

With over twenty recordings that span a career that now extends over forty years, Eric Bibb continues to search for new sounds that will satisfy his musical curiosity. He has a deep appreciation for the blues but his music has always mixed a variety of influences including folk, gospel and soul music. Bibb's songs venture into the deep, dark places that inspire many blues songs but his music always seems to move you in ways that lift the spirit without turning a blind eye to the issues of modern life.

The starting point for this recording occurred in Scotland where Bibb collaborated with the multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell on a segment for the BBC's “Celtic Connections” program last year. Using Powell's Cypress House Studio in Point Breaux, LA, Bibb brings together an impressive cast of musicians that includes Powell on a variety of string instruments, accordion & harmony vocal. Other support comes from Cedric Watson, a founding member of the Pine Leaf Boys, on fiddles & backing vocals, Danny DeVillier, a professor in the University of Louisiana music department, on drums while Christine Balfa lends a hand on the Cajun triangle. The Seattle-based harmonica player Grant Dermody has teamed up with Bibb in the past, his subtle work a fine match for the leader's music. Bibb plays numerous guitars, including a cigar box diddly bow, and a six-string banjo.

The disc opens with a swampy feel as Bibb sings about his admiration for his “Bayou Belle”, with a rolling beat from DeVillier. Harrison Kennedy's “Could Be Me, Could Be You” addresses the plight of the homeless with Watson and Dermody setting the mood with mournful tones on their respective instruments. Their fine work continues on the traditional spiritual “Sinner Man”, with a restrained vocal from Bibb. The original “Movin' Up” has a light-hearted country feel as Bibb encourages listeners to keep pushing ahead as fiddle strings dance behind his vocal. Another original, “No Further”, issues a veiled warning about the downward spiral of drug addiction.

Balfa's triangle is the driving force on “Dig a Little Deeper in the Well”, which Bibb refers to as a “hokey anthem” in the liner notes. There isn't anything hokey about the group's rendition with Bibb laying down a vocal fill of hope and encouragement. Powell and Watson supply the dueling fiddles that spark another Bibb original that finds him proclaiming his personal philosophy on “Music”. The haunting tone on “Money in Your Pocket” is in vivid contrast to Bibb's celebration of the blessings in his life, with mournful accompaniment from Powell's accordion. “Sittin' in a Hotel Room” is a gentle ode to the peace and beauty that is all around us if we just take the time to soak it all in.

Two songs honor a couple of Bibb's musical inspirations. “Every Wind in the River” was recorded by Taj Mahal in 1991. Bibb adopts a gentler approach to the vocal as the musical accompaniment steadily builds around him. Bob Dylan once encouraged a youthful Bibb to “..keep it simple, forget all that fancy stuff.” Eric does just that on a stripped-down take of “The Times They Are A Changin'”, showing that Dylan's poetry still resonates in this day and age. At the end, there is a brief pause before Dermody provides a coda, playing a tender jig on his harmonica.

The peaceful nature of Bibb's music is a welcome respite from the cacophony of noise in our daily lives. Multiple listens allow you to slowly unveil the understated power in the music and gain a true appreciation for the outstanding musical accompaniment. This one might be the best recording yet in Eric Bibb's illustrious career. Give it a listen and decide for yourself.

Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.

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