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Eric Bibb, a self described “blues troubadour,” recently told a radio interviewer that what he needs most from any place he has ever called “home” is proximity to an airport.
Born in 1951, Bibb is the son of Leon Bibb, a 1960s folk singer and television personality. The New York native’s uncle, John Lewis, was a famous jazz pianist and composer, and his godfather was none other than singer-actor-activist Paul Robeson. Leon Bibb’s circle included seminal folk artists the likes of Odetta, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.
Bibb got a steel-stringed guitar at 7, and was playing on his father’s television show by his teens. At 19, he left for Paris, then Sweden, where he settled throughout the 1970s. Although Bibb returned to New York for half of the 1980s, he has since lived overseas, and now lives in Finland.
Bibb is not exactly a household name; he’s more widely known in Europe. Still, he’s been earning a living as a musician throughout his adult life, all while maintaining simultaneously busy touring and recording schedules.
As far as recording, Bibb’s website lists almost 20 albums for sale. As far as touring, Bibb comes to Prince Frederick on Sunday from shows in New York (including at the famous Blue Note jazz club) and Connecticut. By Tuesday he’ll be moving on to the West Coast and Canada.
Last year, Bibb released “Booker’s Guitar,” an album inspired by the discovery of a 1930s vintage steel-body guitar that once belonged to Delta blues artist Booker White, a cousin of B.B. King. That same year Bibb teamed up with Swedish guitarist Staffan Astner in a bar in Sweden to produce a live album, “Troubadour Live,” which was was released just months ago. The effort also features a gospel trio called Psalm4.
“Troubadour Live” captures Bibb’s approach to live shows in recent years.
In a press release issued by his tour publicist, Bibb is quoted as saying, “A live record is a way to give people a sense of the way an artist communicates with his or her audience. I think this record does that. It’s intimate, and that’s a big part of what I like to do. I play in front of larger crowds sometimes, but I think my forte is being able to get close to an audience on a given evening and deliver a message that they can take with them after they leave.”
Let’s explore, then, what kind of preview “Troubadour Live” provides for Sunday’s concert at St. John Vianney Catholic Church Family Life Center.
“The Cape” - A quiet ode to childlike courage, the album opens with a storytelling track featuring simple guitar picking and Bibb’s straightforward approach to vocals. Bibb sings, “All these years the people said, ‘He’s acting like a kid.” He did not know he could not fly, so he did.”
“New Home” - After introducing Astner, the pace picks up with “New Home,” a rollicking dose of clap-your-hands country blues that pairs steel-string and electric guitar playing. The opening lyric of this foot stomper, one full of hillside views and rivers rising, puts it all in context: “I’m building a new home called the County Line.”
“Troubadour” - Bibb introduces the idea of a troubadour: ticket in his pocket, feather in his hat, suitcase in his hands, a guitar on his back.
“Tell Riley” - Coming after “Shavin’ Talk” and “Walkin’ Blues Again,” “Tell Riley,” an ode to B.B. King, connects a sequence of tunes which, taken together, make as solid a case as any for the idea that songs need not be fast-paced to be energetic. Even a bluesman who prefers to play seated can inspire a sitting crowd to stand on their feet.
“Connected” - Now the album turns a corner. This tune, a slow builder, ends with Andre De Lange singing in Zulu.
“If You Were Not My Woman” - “Troubadour Live” ends with a bouncy reggae tune that caps several spirited songs touching on gospel, country and modern blues. All told, this is an album that shows Bibb’s tendency to use blues as merely a starting point. The bluesman has told interviewers that he feels like he’s part of a tribe of performers, a tradition which goes back to Lead Belly and plenty more. That, however, refers more to a lifestyle than it does to a sound: Who knows, then, what kind of uplifting sounds Bibb might make in the years ahead?
If you go
Joined by Grant Dermody on harmonica, Eric Bibb will perform at 7 p.m. July 24 at St. John Vianney Catholic Church Family Life Center. Doors will open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35. The event is at 105 Vianney Lane (off Main Street), Prince Frederick. Call 410-414-9099.