June 18, 2024

Eric Bibb – ‘Ridin’ – “happy handful of funky fun, inspiring hope”

REPUTE RECORDS 24th March 2023

A relaxed and smooth album from this septuagenarian renowned blues musician, with some special chops and guest appearances. Usually down with the traditional blues, Eric Bibb has gone for self-penned songs that hit important facets of the Black American experience. Sounds vary widely from the distinctive Resonator guitar to traditional Malian griot.

There is a strong element of folk, in that these songs aren’t neutral, they are documenting a people. If he mentions Memphis it is mainly to tell you that Dr King was killed there and to tell the tale of the campaigning Freedom Train. There are ripping guitar solos and wondrous organ sounds but they are in service to the message. Chugging train-blues, rolling folk-blues, enquiring guitar lines; the songs, despite the underlying oppression and resistance have strong moments of celebration and remain funky and groovy. Those lyrics won’t be ignored and the blues have always been about hard life and somebody got done wrong – here is it laid out to see where it ties directly to race. That’s how come the blues came to be.

It’s a co-write with producer, Glen Scott, and covers a few topics that might send you off to a book or a search engine – like the story of the author of ‘Black Like Me’ in ‘The Ballad of John Howard Griffin’, a white man who made himself up as black to document the different treatment he experienced. As a social experiment it was brave and painful – no more so than any black person of the time – but it saw him excoriated by his own community. Songs like this can be a bit lyrically prosaic for repeated listens but the message is essential and the playing and groove is what rewards return visits. ‘Call Me By My Name’ spells out how it feels to be a thing, not a person “I’m a man, not your boy”. ‘Sinner Man’ is one bone from an old song, grown into something entirely else, vibing on funky mouth organ and country fiddle. Only ‘People You Love’ strikes a bum note with a sappy tone instead one of strength, history and people.

Ultimately hopeful and far jauntier than you’d expect, this is a happy handful of funky fun, inspiring hope from the strength of people’s determination rather than despair at the hardness of men’s hearts.

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