‘Ridin’’ is a strong and moving record that will reveal and reward more on repeated plays.
Following 2021’s ‘Dear America’, Eric Bibb returns with his new album ‘Ridin’’. The Stockholm-based expatriate American revisits his family’s activism in the Civil Rights movement with a series of songs speaking to a fight that continues to this day. Bibb is ably supported by guests including contemporaries Taj Mahal, Russell Malone, Amar Sundy, Harrison Kennedy and Habib Koité as well as rising blues star Jonatavious Willis.
The opening song ‘Family’ has a funky feel punctuated with slide guitar and a theme of unity versus attempts by the powerful to divide and rule. The title track takes off in more of a blues direction; “Ridin’ on the Freedom Train” and drawing on images of Dr Martin Luther King and the struggle for freedom and civil rights. Bibb’s guitar really kicks off as the song progresses. ‘Blues Funky Like Dat’ features Taj Mahal and Willis and lives up its title with some fine playing from Bibbs and guests.
Bibb switches to more of a jazz-blues mood for the ‘Ballad of John Howard Griffin’ telling the tale of his research into conditions in the southern US in the late 1950s/ early 1960s. Malone provides some fine jazzy guitar touches. After a take on the folk staple ‘500 Miles’, Bibb turns it up with ‘Tulsa Town’ describing the 1921 race massacre whose story hid in plain sight for so long. Bibb ends the song on a defiant note:
“I’m so proud to be a survivor of that brave community
Black Wall Street will thrive again in the twenty-first century
On holy ground, in Tulsa Town, in Tulsa Town.”
‘Holdin’ The Line’ with its hope not hate theme sits on a jazz-R&B backing with Malone once again supporting. Assertiveness underpins both the electric blues of ‘I Got My Own’ and the acoustic led ‘Call Me By My Name’.
Which lead us to the stunning ‘Joybells’ with its plaintive opening chorus before contrasting the memorialisation of soldiers with the treatment afforded to the victims of lynching: “the ones hung from a branch”. After reprising the chorus Bibb recites a depressingly long list of Alabama lynching victims – “Voices keep singing to my heart”.
Next up is a funky live ‘Sinner Man’ before running into ‘Free’ which features a killer vocal from Koité. ‘People You Love’ the last full song sees Bibb musing on the transitory yet continuous nature of life (and afterlife) before the album closes out with a short instrumental, ‘Church Bells (Outro)’, featuring acoustic guitar and strings. It acts as a quiet moment after the more tempestuous material that precedes it.
Ridin’’ is a strong and moving record that will reveal and reward more on repeated plays.