Eric Bibb is often regarded as one of the new custodians of acoustic blues. Rather than just recycling the blues, however, he is taking it and extending it in different directions. On "Home To Me," Bibb's fourth album, he continues the move into new areas that was first explored on his previous album, "Me To You," whilst still retaining elements of his roots in Blues, Gospel and Folk.
Bibb's musical horizons have been broadened by living outside his native America for several years, and "Home To Me" reflects this more global perspective. So, even though the opener, "World War Blues" starts off in a Bluesy vein, it doesn't take long for other influences to emerge. The second track, "Healing Time," for example, reveals strong Caribbean influences, and is immediately followed by "Mandela is Free," a mixture of acoustic finger-picking, and African township jive. The uplifting High-Life guitar on the chorus of this one is supplied by long time cohort Christer Lyssarides, and the township feel is further added to by David Wilczewski's soprano sax.
The American influences still dominate, however, with acoustic Blues represented by "No More Cane on the Brazos," and "Come Back Baby." Each highlights Bibb's talents as a guitarist and show off the harder edge to his singing. There's also a splash of Country too, in the hoe-down feel of "New Shoes."
The great thing about Bibb is the way he can readily switch between the variety of styles and material, without ever overstretching himself. His vocal range allows him to handle more brooding Blues material, as well as more upbeat African material. He's perhaps at his best though on the slower tracks like the poignant "For You", which shows off the more soulful side to his singing, or the folk of "Singin' in My Heart," which also features Corrina Hewat on vocals and Scottish Harp.
The only minor disappointment is the closing version of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me." The arrangement is a bit leaden, and the use of accordion in the background is a bit distracting. The excellent backing vocals by The New Deacons (who feature on several tracks) inject a Gospel feel, however, and manage to just about save the day.
"Home To Me" is a very good album which comes across as a labor of love. Bibb appears very much at ease with the more diverse choice of material and styles. If you liked his previous album, you'll like this one. If you've only heard his earlier albums ("Spirit & The Blues", and "Good Stuff"), then there's still enough of the same here to satisfy you, and the more wider ranging material will pleasantly surprise you.
MANHATON Records, 2nd Floor Suite, 9 Coombe Road, New Malden, Surrey KT3 4PX, United Kingdom.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.