Eric Bibb

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Eric Bibb resides right outside of the crossroads where blues, folk, and gospel meet. His songs are elevating but not preachy, gritty but not nasty. It's a congenial music, as if to say that it may be the blues but it doesn't have to be a bummer. And it's a moralistic music, but its meaningful message is never delivered in a saccharine manner. Slide guitars and harmonicas wail, choirs holler, horns blare, tambourines get shaken, steel guitars twang, strings soothe, Wurlitzers whirl, and Bibb, acoustic guitar in hand, keeps 'em all honest with his earthy, Everyman songs. Like Taj Mahal, who has guested on Bibb's recordings, Bibb is in love with the roots of Americana, but, again like Taj, there's nothing self-conscious or stylized about his approach. On the soul ballad "If Our Hearts Ain't in It," which features Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar, he castigates phony religiosity, but even then it's not a condemnation: "We can fall down on our knees, shout 'Hallelujah, my soul is saved!'/But if our hearts ain't in it, ain't nothin' much is gonna change." "Stayed on Freedom," just Bibb on vocal and acoustic with Grant Dermody blowing harp, is a traditional spiritual turned civil rights anthem that delivers the simplest truth in a simple package, and "Pockets" is a country blues love tune set to an easygoing shuffle. A particular highlight is the deep blues "Conversation," a duet with the vocalist Ruthie Foster. A slow builder, it begins sparsely but subtly intensifies as Dermody's harmonica and a trio of trombone, saxophone, and trumpet assert themselves into the tune. Best of all, perhaps, is the opener, "Spirit I Am," a rousing, thumping, oversized shout-out to all that is good and right in a world that, more and more, has us all wondering what's real and what isn't and where we all fit in.

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