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Review: Eric Bibb with Stefan Astner, Troubadour Live

Eric Bibb with Stefan Astner
Troubadour Live
[Telarc (2011)]

Like Guy Davis and John White, Jr., Eric Bibb has not only inherited musical traditions but has used those traditions as a springboard for deeply personal musical expression. Fresh from winning the 2010 Downbeat Critic’s Poll for Best Blues Album, with Booker’s Guitar, the son of 1960s folksinger Leon Bibb, the nephew of jazz pianist John Lewis (Modern Jazz Quintet), and godson of folksinger/activist Paul Robeson returns with an equally potent live recording, Troubadour Live.

Recorded during a December 2010 show in the intimate setting of Katalin and All That Jazz, a small club in Uppsala, Sweden (about 50 miles north of Stockholm), Bibb serves up a soul-stirring mix of what he calls during “Troubadour” (a song written with Ruthie Foster) “some blues like a freight train rolling through, gospel, soul, and some good old rock and roll.” Bibb evoked the spirits of past blues masters on “Booker’s Guitar,” recorded on Booker Whit’s guitar. But, those spirits are just as active throughout this live CD.

Opening the set with a solo rendition of the Guy and Susanna Clark and Jim Janosky song about taking risks, “The Cape,” Bibb goes on to place his indelible stamp on the blues. With Stefan Astner spinning electric guitar counterpoint to his acoustic, fingerpicked 6-string and baritone vocals, Bibb shows that the blues does not necessarily be about sorrow and hard times. He updates the message of Civil Rights anthem, “Eyes On The Prize,” during the hopeful “New World Comin’ Through,” one of four tunes with the gospel group Psalm 4, featuring Glen Scott (vocals, piano, percussion), Andre De Lange, and Paris Renita (vocals). In his native language of Xhosa, South Africa-born De Lange sings the West Africa-flavored, “For You.” Among the four tracks reprised from Booker’s Guitar are the Robert Johnson-inspired “Walkin’ Blues Again” and “Tell Riley,” during which Bibb imagines himself encouraging a young B.B. King.

A pair of studio tracks round out the CD. “Put Your Love First” is a country duet with Troy Cassar-Daley (vocal, mandolin, 12-string guitar), while “If You Were Not My Woman” is a tender love song featuring a lush string section arranged and conducted by Erik Arvinder.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

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