Eric Bibb delivers a powerful, and critical, love letter to America, with his distinctive vocals and acoustic guitar with blues stylings.
Eric Bibb is one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary blues and roots music. Born in New York City, but a long-term resident of Sweden and Finland, Bibb has been a regular visitor to the UK, recent touring appearances including Black Deer in 2018 and Ronnie Scotts in 2019. His music has always reflected his deep love of, and empathy for, the blues, especially in its acoustic country and folk blues incarnations, and these influences shine through in his latest release, ‘Dear America’, along with the social and political awareness which has always been at the heart of his songwriting.
Reflecting on the inspiration for the album, he explains “It’s a love letter, because America, for all of its associations with pain and its bloody history, has always been a place of incredible hope and optimism. To be American, and particularly to come from New York City, is to be blessed.” Its thirteen tracks do indeed carry a positive spirit, but not without casting a harsh light on the darker corners of America, past and present. On ‘Born of a Woman’, where vocal duties are shared with Shaneeka Simon, Bibb sings “Walking home one night/ heard somebody screaming/ mans beating his wife/ payday drunk again/cops showed up/ but they never did arrest him / Lord how can a man treat a woman that way”, while ‘Emmett’s Ghost’ addresses one of the most notorious racially motivated murders in the US, that of Emmett Till, who was lynched in Money, Mississippi in 1955, aged only 14. Bibb sings of the shock he felt at first seeing a photograph of Till, singing “I recall my first look at his battered face/ a few years younger than Emmett Till/ when he met his brutal fate”.
Throughout the album Bibb’s exceptional musicality shines through, his acoustic guitar at the front of the songs’ arrangements, with guest appearances adding to the strong and varied set, notably on ‘Blues on a Train Pt 1’, featuring Billy Branch on blues harp, and the soul-flavoured ‘Love’s Kingdom’, with long-standing collaborator Tommy Sims on bass, and Glen Scott on vocals.
Full on, down-dirty blues is at the heart of ‘Whole Worlds got the Blues’, with fine lead guitar work from Eric Gales, while on ‘White and Black’, a plea for mutual understanding, a gospel-tinged number with keys and horns, the sincerity of Bibb’s message is unmistakable.
Album closer ‘One-ness of Love’ is a gentle gospel ballad, featuring a vocal duet with Lisa Mills, a hymn to the power of love.
A very fine set of blues-influenced songs, with Bibb’s social and political message centre stage, rating amongst his finest work in a long and distinguished career.