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Get Onboard
Artist: Eric Bibb
Label: Flatbrim Recordings (distributed by Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group)
Tracks: 12

Acoustic blues guitarist / singer / songwriter Eric Bibb’s new CD Get Onboard, picks up where he left off with his 2007 album Diamond Days, creating earthy ballads that pay homage to simple themes, and the pioneers of blues music. The talented bluesman also expands upon the gospel flavor that slightly graced Diamond Days, with his song, “In My Father’s House.” The current album opens with two unmistakable gospel tunes, “Spirit I Am,” a play on the Old Testament words that God used to reveal himself to the Moses as the great “I Am,” and the song “Promised Land,” a farmer’s petition to God, which has a direct reference to the parting of the Red Sea, in the last verse. The theme of the two songs never comes across as preachy, but instead as a mere reflection of the fabric of the farmer in the second song, and as a subtle longing of the singer in the first tune. 

Listeners will revel in “New Beale Street Blues,” which bears the trademark Eric Bibb, laid back, unblemished vocals, and a nice blues shuffle. The song nods to the historic roots for blues music, and the people who helped pioneer the sound. Beale Street (formerly Beale Avenue), is located in Memphis Tennessee, and if not the birthplace of the blues, certainly can be referred to as the place where blues music became consolidated as a genre, between the 1860’s and 1930’s. Bibb’s song expresses a desire to return to Beale Street, and meet up with Memphis Minnie, Gus Cannon, best known for his jug band in the early 20th century, harmonica player Noah Lewis, a contemporary of Cannon, and blues guitarist / singer /songwriter Joe McCoy, who incidentally also was the husband of Memphis Minnie.  In addition to Bibb, it is worth noting the contributions that Grant Dermody (harmonica), Orville Johnson (mandolin), and backup vocalists Glenn Scott and Tommy Sims, make to the song “New Beale Street Blues.”

The song “Get Onboard,” is a natural fit to follow “New Beale Street Blues,” and harpist Jenny Bohman picks up where Dermody left off, serving up some great notes from her harmonica. As the album Get Onboard rolls down the track, the things that you come to appreciate about Eric Bibb are the clarity of his vocals, his impeccable enunciation and his sincere phrasing. 

“If Our Hearts Ain’t It,” is a spiritual missive that features a treasured guest performance on slide guitar by Bonnie Raitt. Raitt’s solo in the later stages of the song is beautiful and memorable. In the writing of “If Our Hearts Ain’t In It,” Bibb collaborated with Sari Matinlassi and Glenn Scott. 

The simplicity of the love song, “Pockets,” reminds one of Bibb’s “Dr Shine,” from Diamond Days. Although thematically poles apart, the two tunes represent the core of Bibb’s songwriting, simple subjects, presented in a folksy way, and played with a gentle, easygoing rhythm.

Other songs to listen for from Eric Bibb’s CD Get Onboard, include the Bibb/Ruthie Foster duet, “Conversation,” a song about relationships, “Step By Step,” dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, and the civil rights anthem “Stayed On Freedom.” 

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.

I am not sure whether it is better to describe Bibb as a Blues player or a musician influenced by the blues. Much of what he plays in undeniably from the genre, but he also shows pop sensibilities (he’s easy to listen to, bright, light and tuneful) and touches of jazz. Furthermore, he rarely uses the bluntness of twelve-bar. There are several versions of the blues stomp on the disc, best shown on the heel-thumping “Promised Land,” but even here his lightness of touch is remarkable. 

Of course, we don’t have to put him in a box. We can simply delight in the economy and richness of his songs and the sense of direction that pervades this release. It is well shown in several of the opening songs, all full of purpose and movement. The title track is about getting on board a love train that’s not stopping, and the invitation is there to move with it. “New Beale Street Blues” is a tribute to Bibb’s blues heritage, with Memphis the destination and a jug band celebration playing at the end. “Promised Land” is also a journey. Using the exodus imagery, it is the experience of tenant farmers through history ­ and that of many third world workers today, with the odds stacked against them in their daily fight for survival. A timeless a cry for justice, it makes God’s promise of freedom their hope. 

The opener, “Spirit I Am” is a mission statement for the disc, with Bibb asking, “What am I in the world to do?” 

Looking in the mirror, am I the change I long to see?
 The world is just a picture of what’s inside you and me.
He calls us all to make it better by living by the Spirit of ‘I Am,’ an Old Testament name of God, used by Abraham.

Further down the disc, Bibb turns to love songs, but even here (“Conversation”) he wants to improve things, with the couple exploring what they really need and want from each other. Ruthie Foster’s character leads, stressing that it doesn’t have to be a vacation with palm trees; a picnic in the park and an early night will do her fine. This healthy stress on simplicity and good relationships is picked up well on “River Blues,” a gorgeously unhurried and delicate piece with the occasional burst of strings. It shows Bibb down by the river, trying to calm down after a disagreement, so avoiding saying something unkind.

            Goin’ down to the river / Soothe my soul just to watch it flow
           Might stay all day / Lookin’ at the leaves turnin’ gold
            My mind needs a change of scene
            Don’t wanna say somethin’ unkind I don’t mean ...

With yet another track picking up musically on the content of the songs, much credit has to go to producer Glen Scott, who has done just about everything possible to deliver these songs at their best. Not only have we had the train whistle blues harp and locomotive rhythm on “Get Onboard;” the New Orleans-styled band on “Beale Street Blues” and the dream-all-day pace and picked guitar on “River Blues,” but he gets the right instrumentation in the right place for every song ­ enough to give it character, but nothing superfluous. As a result, this disc is just about free of filler.

But the CD sparkles with talent. Tommy Sims (who has worked as bassist, songwriter or producer with Springsteen, Clapton and Amy Grant) must have lent his advice while playing bass and singing backing vocals. Bonnie Raitt provides superb slide work on “If Our Hearts Ain’t in It.” She dips out of the song from time to time, but when she does appear it is to scrape emotion from her strings. The Campbell Brothers, who don’t seem to have put out a disc for some years, play lap steel and pedal steel on “Step by Step,” and there is some equally fine steel playing by Johan Lindström and Clive Barnes.

Bibb takes the best approach to his faith on this collection. As well as being up-front, open and inviting, it is also shown to be an everyday part of his life alongside love and music; something that causes him to want to life to the full.

Bibb is touring the UK from the end of May and doing several festivals this summer (including Cornbury and Cambridge). His airy, relaxed and summery music will be an ideal backdrop to lying on the grass and basking in the sun.

Derek Walker


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