Eric Bibb – Global Griot


Title: Global Griot
Artist: Eric Bibb
Label: Stony Plain
Formats: 2-CD set, Digital
Release Date: October 26, 2018


Grammy nominated blues and folk musician Eric Bibb’s latest project, Global Griot, was inspired by his engagement with the West African tradition of storytelling through music—an engagement that began at least fifteen years prior when he met and recorded with Malian musician Habib Koité. In the introduction of the liner notes for his new album Bibb writes, “Dear friends, my ongoing reunion with West Africa is a life-changing blessing. Collaborating with and befriending musicians from legendary griot families has been a long awaited homecoming—like a healing singing river washing over my soul. It’s an honor and a great pleasure to introduce you to my fellow global griots with this gathering of tribes.” Continue reading

Eric Bibb – Migration Blues

Eric Bibb
Title: Migration Blues

Artist: Eric Bibb

Label: Stony Plain

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: March 31, 2017


“Blues was born of forced migration”— Michael Jerome Browne

Award-winning blues singer/songwriter Eric Bibb has offered fans a new album almost every year since signing to Stony Plain Records in 2011, ranging from explorations of American roots music to cross-cultural collaborations. With a career now spanning five decades, the 65-year-old artist pulls no punches on his latest release, Migration Blues, an overtly political statement. As Bibb’s explains, “Whether you’re looking at a former sharecropper, hitchhiking from Clarksdale to Chicago in 1923, or an orphan from Aleppo, in a boat full of refugees in 2016—it’s migration blues. With this album, I want to encourage us all to keep our minds and hearts wide open to the ongoing plight of refugees everywhere. As history shows, we all come from people who, at some time or another, had to move.”  He goes on to add, “While pondering the current refugee crisis I found myself thinking about the Great Migration, which saw millions of African Americans leaving the brutal segregation and economic misery of the rural South for the industrial cities of the North. Making this connection is what inspired the new songs included here.”

YouTube Preview Image

Migration Blues was jointly produced by Bibb (vocals, guitars, six-string banjo and contrabass guitar), Michael Jerome Browne (guitars, vocals, banjos, mandolin and triangle), and JJ Milteau (harmonica), who all contributed to the songwriting process and recording. One of those newly composed songs, the opening track “Refugee Moan,” perfectly encapsulates the theme of the album. Drawing upon the roots of blues and gospel music by making use of a train metaphor, Bibb sings to the accompaniment of gourd banjo and harmonica:

If there’s a train that will take me there
Take me where I can live in peace
Oh, Lord, take me onboard, don’t leave me here
Let me ride that train.

From this point forward, the songs traverse time and space. “Delta Getaway” and “With a Dolla’ In My Pocket” are drawn from stories about the perilous journey from Mississippi to Chicago, while “Diego’s Blues” is about Mexican farm workers migrating to the Delta to replace those who fled north during the Great Migration. One of the most haunting tracks is “Prayin’ For Shore,” recounting contemporary journeys of refugees attempting to reach Europe by boat, and the many who drowned before achieving their goal:

In a ol’ leaky boat / Somewhere on the sea
Tryin’ to get away from the war
Welcome or not, we got to land soon
Oh, Lord – prayin’ for shore.

The title track is an instrumental featuring Bibb on a resophonic 12-string guitar, Browne on a 12-string slide guitar, and Milteau on harmonica. This interlude offers listeners a much needed moment to take a deep breath and reflect on the many threads connecting the songs. Other stand out tracks include “We Had to Move,” inspired by the life of James Brown, the instrumental “La Vie C’est Comme Un Oignon” referencing the expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia in the 1700s (ft. Browne on fiddle and ti-fer). Also included are several covers: Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” which unfortunately is still very relevant; Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land;” and an arrangement of the traditional spiritual “Mornin’ Train,” closing the album with the message that our final migration is to heaven, and everything else is transitory.

Migration Blues is a masterful album that’s both timely and historical in nature with its exploration of journeys and diasporas, of the impact of migration on musical borrowings and innovations, and perhaps most important—our shared humanity.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Get Onboard

Title: Get Onboard
Artist: Eric Bibb
Label: Telarc
Catalog No.: CD-83675
Release date: March 11, 2008

Although he is frequently classified as a blues singer/songwriter, Eric Bibb draws most heavily from the music of black churches on his latest release, Get Onboard. Whereas only one of its songs is cast in a standard twelve-bar blues form, the album is permeated by the sounds of gospel and of spirituals. Many of the songs’ lyrics are of religious or spiritual themes, although the music on Get Onboard ranges in character from the boldly defiant to the quirky and humorous.

To my ears, Get Onboard seems uneven; a certain flatness or lack of energy characterizes several of its songs, making them unable to sustain repeated hearings. This flatness is most apparent on the album’s heavier tracksespecially its opener, “Spirit I Am.” Replete with several backing vocalists, this song aspires to convey the impression of a congregation en masse as it repeatedly intones the phrase, “I live for the Spirit I am.” But the voices blend a little too smoothly for my taste; greater distinction among the backing vocalists would have been more powerful. Additionally, Bibb’s delivery of the song’s verses is not sufficiently emotional.

Bibb shines more on songs depicting humility and supplication, as well as on the album’s more humorous numbers. “If Our Hearts Ain’t In It” (which features Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar) describes feelings of religious ambivalence: one can go through the motions of religion“Go to church seven days a week / Read the Bible three hours a day”without actually experiencing any religious fervor of one’s own“If our hearts ain’t in it / Ain’t nothing much is gonna change.” Bibb’s voice sounds weak and wavering in this song, fitting the mood of its lyrics; the wandering quality of the harmonies also helps the ambivalence.

“Conversation,” a duet with Ruthie Foster, is cute. The only twelve-bar blues song on the album, it offers a humorous musical setting of a conversation between a couple who don’t spend enough time together:

You’re workin’ all the time
What about you an’ me?
Your’re workin’ all the time
Honey, what about you an’ me?
Aw, baby, baby, baby,
I just miss your company.

The somewhat jaunty and unpredictable musical accompaniment lends a touch of irony to the ostensible love duet.

Despite its occasional winners, Get Onboard suffers greatly from the aforementioned lack of zeal, and I cannot give it my fullest recommendation. I would, nevertheless, like to note how well produced the album is; many of its songs feature large instrumental ensembles, but their sound is never homogenized and the individual instruments can be heard distinctly.

Posted by John Reef

Promotional video showing the making of Get Onboard, courtesy of Telarc: