Eric Bibb is a two-time Grammy nominee and friend to the likes of Dylan, Baez, and Seeger. This renowned US blues artist has a new album ‘Ridin” released this month, the follow-up to his award-winning 2021 album ‘Dear America’. This album is a more personal affair inspired by true stories from African American history and features an array of guest appearances by Taj Mahal, Habib Koite, Steve Jordan, Tommy Sims, Harrison Kennedy, Russell Malone, Jontavious Willis and many more.
The album opens with `Family` and has an almost conversational style expressing a view on oppression which to me had much more impact as it was shared in this quite informal manner. There was a delightful off beat percussive heartbeat and plucked banjo throughout this opening salvo which also had some wonderfully expressed soulful gospel like backing harmonies. Title track `Ridin’` is an old style stripped back blues number which hints at a desire and fight for freedom. The number does fill out as it evolves with some marvellous guitar chord shimmers and harmonies at the conclusion. The ethos for ‘Ridin” was hugely inspired by the oil painting by Eastman Johnson, A Ride For Liberty (1862) that depicts an African American family fleeing enslavement in the southern USA during the American Civil War. In Eric’s own words: “Johnson’s painting embodies all the hope, determination and courage that is at the core of the African American experience and needed now throughout the world.”
`Blues Funky Like Dat` features both the legendary bluesman Taj Mahal (Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr) and new generation country blues singer, guitarist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jontavious Willis and is a track that is so simplistic but will really draw you in and have you singing along with the chorus. I have to admit it brought to mind the sadly missed Dr John at times as it talked about a preacher who may not have been all that he depicted. We have a jazz tinged offering in `The Ballad of John Howard Griffin` which enjoys the talents of American jazz guitarist Russell Malone. The track relates the story of journalist and author from Texas, John Howard Griffin, who wrote about and championed racial equality. He is best known for his 1959 project to temporarily pass as a black man and journey through the Deep South in order to see life and segregation from the other side of the colour line first-hand.
We have a captivating version of the folk number `500 Miles` written by folk singer Hedy West and made famous by folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary in the early sixties. The singer really makes this number his own with a shuffling bluesy come americana take with some superb fiddle dusted into the mix. We have a tribute to the history of the racial massacre in 1921 in Tulsa in `Tulsa Town` which is faster paced and shuffles along with gospel like harmonies joining in at times as the number progresses.
We have in `Onwards` a brief reflective instrumental interlude before Russell Malone returns to sprinkle his magic on the introspective `Hold The Line` a quieter more thoughtful musing.
`I Got My Own` has some captivating guitar chord riffs supplied by Amar Sundy, who is affectionately known as “the bluesman of the desert.” An unpretentious but effective musical offering. Canadian electric blues, singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Harrison Kennedy shares vocals on `Call Me By My Name` which is a invocation or demand to be referred to by their given name and not the racist derogatory insult of “boy”. The two different vocals styles have a wonderful symmetry.
`Joybells` is a kind of eulogy to the thousands who have given their lives to fight for freedom and has a female vocal in the former part that really complements the singer`s own voice. As the song grows the singer lists a number of names of the fallen. A wonderfully poignant and thought provoking listen. We have a live cut with `Sinner Man` which has Eric Bibb`s String Band recorded at the Wheatland Festival.
`Free` has Malian singer, songwriter and grio (poet) Habib Koité adding his rich tones to this number that reflects how far things have changed but at the sme time you should never forget where you`ve come from. The emotive `People You Love` has some terrific slide or steel guitar on this tribute to those whom you love and those whom you`ve lost. A number that almost had a sense of spirituality about it.
The album concludes with another instrumental in `Church Bells` which to me had an almost Celtic flavour with flutes and fiddles to lead us all out gently.
`Ridin` was a true delight, not only was it well thought out but also well executed with special guests who added to the mix rather that overtook it. The subject matter shared is always a difficult one to address and this artist has done it in a sensitive manner that is not preachy but stimulating and inspiring.
This American Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist will be touring the UK in May where i`m sure a fair few of these tracks will form part of his set. Miss the tour and this album at your peril.
Rating 9 / 10