Booker’s Guitar

Title: Booker’s Guitar

Artist: Eric Bibb

Label: Telarc International

Catalog No.: TEL-31756-02

Format: CD; MP3

Release Date: 1/26/10

Folk-blues guitarist Eric Bibb has delivered a winner here.  In a laid-back style that belies the obviously intense craftsmanship required to write and play these tunes, Bibb transports the listener back and forth between the Mississippi Delta of the early days of recorded blues and the modern world.  The style is a crossroads of sorts—the country blues meets an educated and urbane troubadour drawing inspiration from a gumbo of books, New Age philosophy, and good old-fashioned blues legends and motifs.  If this all sounds too “of the academy,” the result is not, it’s good solid musical fun played superbly.  Nothing stiff or posed about it; Bibb plays with passion and release and his ensemble work on 8 of the 14 tunes with harmonica ace Grant Dermody demonstrates confident mastery of the material.  Tasty licks, meaningful but not overwrought lyrics and excellent production makes for an ear treat.

The title track was inspired by an event that took place in London. Bibb was on tour and, after a show, a friend gave him a National steel guitar that had been owned by Delta bluesman Booker White.  Bibb was inspired to write a half-spoken/half-sung tribute to White and the guitar, which he recorded right there in England.  The rest of the album was recorded by Michael Bishop in a restored antique general store in Burton, Ohio, in November 2008. Following is the official promotional video (courtesy of Telarc):

Bibb covers the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” in both cases bringing something new and original to the music.  Dermody’s harmonica work on both adds power and reinforces Bibb’s guitar work, and Bibb uses a baritone guitar to great effect on “Wayfaring Stranger.”

The rest of the tunes are Bibb originals.  He wrote extensive notes, explaining his inspirations and intentions.  One might enjoy the album more by listening to it once without the booklet, then refer to Bibb’s notes the second time through.  Suffice to say, Bibb is a man who draws inspiration from a variety of sources and schools of thought.

Although every tune on the album was at least good (no clunkers), there were several stand-outs.  “Flood Water,” loosely about the Mississippi flood of 1926-27, sounds timeless.  It could have been recorded in the early 1930’s or it could be about the recent Katrina disaster.  “One Soul to Save” is probably the most intense song on the album, but it’s not overdone or too heavy.  “One Good Woman” is a sweet tribute to all the good women out there, and Bibb’s use of a 12-string guitar adds interesting textures and harmonies.  And the two covers are not to be missed.  The title track is clever where it could be lame, but it’s not among the best on the disc.  The same can be said about “Tell Riley,” which is a little corny in concept and lyrics but this is mitigated to a large extent by Bibb’s excellent baritone guitar work and Dermody’s harmonica.

Finally, kudos to engineer and co-producer (with Bibb) Bishop.  The dynamic, natural, uncluttered sound on this album is the antithesis of too many modern blues albums. There will be no listener fatigue from this album, only a desire to hear more.  Listening on a good system, with the lights dim and a blues vibe in the room, you’ll swear Bibb and Dermody are right there.

Reviewed by Tom Fine