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Eric Bibb - Booker's Guitar

Telarc Blues

15 songs; 49:27 minutes; Library Quality

Styles: Acoustic Blues; Delta Blues; Folk and Country Blues

Is it too early in 2010 to select my pick for Acoustic Blues Album of the Year?

I do not really expect any Acoustic Blues CDs to come along that are any better. 58 year old Eric Bibb is more than just a solo acoustic performer as can be seen across his sixteen previous CDs – some with bands and guests like Bonnie Raitt. But, here he has created a masterpiece as he “document(s) [his] connection to the Delta blues tradition."

The CD’s music is so different from the rowdy full band shuffles I usually hear that it caused me to wonder how best to listen. This is quiet but powerful, soul stirring material telling stories and celebrating human emotions and experiences. Using headphones should enhance the appreciation, and under no circumstances should you listen with another person who is trying to converse through the music!

The half-spoken, half-sung title track (and inspiration for the entire CD) was recorded in London using a 1934 vintage Resophonic National steel-body guitar that had belonged to Delta Blues legend Booker White. Opening the song, and as Bibb’s rich baritone voice sings “Booker’s guitar rings like a bell...,” he plucks strings extracting ringing, bright tones that can only come from those type of guitars.
Booker White - an older cousin to B.B. King - was a Delta Blues singer and slide guitarist who made the bulk of his recordings between 1930 and 1940 but was rediscovered during the folk-blues revival of the early 1960s. Keenly aware of White, Bibb had followed his career from his earliest recordings to the time when he was rediscovered.

The remaining 14 tracks, although recorded in rural Ohio on Bibb's own guitars, sprang from the same well of inspiration. "Once I had written “Booker’s Guitar,” I really wanted to make a complete statement and document my connection to the Delta Blues tradition," says Bibb. “I felt like this guitar finding its way to me was a signal that I had journeyed far enough to be able to make an honest tribute to the music of my heroes."

The next best track is “Tell Riley” – one I saw Bibb perform live at the 2006 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. Here, Bibb pretends to be Booker White talking to his wife. He tells her that he has to go to Chicago to record more records (“Gonna sing my songs till my throat gets sore”). In the song, Booker tells his wife that, while he is gone, if his cousin Riley B. King (B.B. King) comes by needing a place to sleep that, “he’s welcome to stay.” Then, he prophetically says, “Mark my words, he’s gonna be big someday.” Accompanied only by Grant Dermody on understated harmonica, Bibb also cleverly works some of White’s personal history into the song, particularly about his stint in prison on Parchman Farm. Bibb told the MVBF audience that he has played the song for B.B. King, and that, not surprisingly, King was touched and honored by the song.

“Turning Pages” may well become the anthem of reading teachers and librarians across the nation. In a bouncy number, again accompanied by Dermody’s harp, Bibb extols the virtues of reading and gives personal testimony, “I love a good book... I read standing up, sittin’ down, in a tub, on a plane / I been turnin’ pages since I first met Dick and Jane.”

How should death by drowning be handled as a subject? In “Flood Water,” Bibb and Dermody create an absolutely delicate reverence about a 1927 flood using a duet with guitar and chromatic harmonica as mouth organ.

From deep solemnity to unbridled joy, Bibb and Dermody couldn’t be happier building a “New Home” across the county line, “upon a high hill where the view is so fine,” and he will “leave this shack behind.”

“One Soul to Save” is a Gospel number minus the usual swelling organ and mighty chorus, but this message coming from one man and his guitar has no less impact.

“Blues is a woman walking out the door thinkin’ she will never return,” Bibb sings in “Rocking Chair.” But, oh, the happiness that comes from tender love when his wayward lover unexpectedly returns for good. He invites her to not explain a thing, “Come sit on the porch... don’t say a word; Baby, just rock.”

This CD is simply a “must have” for fans of Acoustic Blues and deep Blues. In the end, Booker's Guitar - mystical and powerful - is the instrument that connects Eric Bibb to another era. At the same time, it connects the blues of another era to the human experiences of today.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Thursdays from 7 - 8 pm and Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL

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