Once again, Bibb proves to us that, although he was raised in the Big Apple, he is a country boy at heart. Perhaps some of his father's roots in Kentucky have seeped into his DNA. Whatever it is, it is genuinely sublime, a sort of aural healing potion, transporting us to a life closer to nature and to slower organic rhythms. Pour a glass, come out on the porch, and let time pass. You will be better for it.
There is a fiercely held and solidly entrenched idea in popular music that dark cynical material is a sign of an artist at the peak of creativity. That dark themes are more important. As if there was only one or two colors in the human emotional palette. As if strife was the best man could achieve. It is an idea that says that lighthearted is somehow lightheaded. Eric Bibb ain't buying it.
Beginning with the title track, Bibb praises the joys found in relationship, in delight of the ordinary, as opposed to the solitary path of the self-seeking. The simple pleasure derived from being in harmony with another, in a union that transcends the petty annoyances that can oft beset us. Bibb testifies, "When I feel blue, she's not the reason." And in the next verse, "She sweetens my tea with her homemade honey, she never hurts my pride when the money gets funny." Bibb's banjo picking is straightforward, stripped down, and inviting.
As Bibb mentioned recently by phone, this album is a snapshot of the space he is inhabiting at this moment in his life. And he has a marvelous cast of characters to help him paint the portrait on this outing. The band is so skilled and inside the vibe that the whole thing feels as organic as the back yard garden you're going to plant this year. And the harvest is sweet indeed.
The four guys at the center of this project are all friends of Bibb's and the fraternal atmosphere yields the kind of sensitivity in the recording that an artist prays for. Include some fine background vocals and an appearance by roots ace Michael Jerome Browne and you have one of the best acoustic records in a long, long time.
On "Toolin' Down the Road" Bibb finds peace in an afternoon drive in the country with his lover behind the wheel. Set against the slithery strings of Olli Haavisto on dobro it is easy to imagine the hours slipping away on an aimless road trip, no particular destination.
"I'll Farm for You" and "Creole Cafe" bring Bibb's rural theme to the forefront in different ways. On the former, the protagonist pledges to his love that he will work and take care of her in exchange for her love and company. "Creole Cafe" is the story of a couple who come into a windfall and buy a little place in the country. The central character takes pride in what each of them bring to the mix; she makes the gumbo and he serves up the blues. Their mutual love and cooperation bring a greater affection for life and one another as a result.
Janne Haavisto's steady drumming adds a solid backbone to "Tossin' and Turnin" and Petri Hakala brings some fine mandolin picking to the tune. "Born to Be Your Man" proposes a sense of romantic destiny. It works well as an acoustic number, although with a slight change of lyric Bonnie Raitt could make a funky barn burner out of this one.
Eleven of the fourteen tracks are Bibb originals and that is a good thing. Bibb's compositions bring to mind the legacy of The Band. In the tradition of Helm's group Bibb has a way of making new music that sounds older, as if we had just unearthed some long-lost tapes from the last century.
There are also two exquisite instrumentals on the album. "1912 Skiing Disaster" written by Olli Haavisto and Petri Hakala is a gorgeous piece of music. "Blueberry Boy" by Bibb is a joyous and lush sounding guitar number anchored by an elegant pedal steel guitar and with a tin whistle melody that is enchanting.
Bibb also brings along two of his own songs from the 2013 release Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music. "Prison of Time" and "On the Porch" put the modern pace of life in perspective and achieve Bibb's vision of a more centered way of living.
Bibb's cover of The Kinks "You Really Got Me" adds to that vision in an indirect way. Taking the frenetic thrust of a young man's urge, Bibb slows the song down and in doing so recasts it as an older man's slow burn. Thanks again to the insistent dobro line, it works beautifully.
The secret weapon Bibb wields on this recording is the presence of master musician and bass player Danny Thompson. Thompson doesn't merely play on these tracks as much as he transforms them. His nimble and elastic bass lines are warm and rich and texture the songs, providing an emotional platform that feeds the other musicians.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the traditional tune, "Tell Ol' Bill." Thompson's doghouse bass reflects the joy in Bibb's vocal on this song. Lyrically the story is rather sad, Ol' Bill gets killed. But the whole performance is so infected with the joy of making music that you'd never know. To date there is no way to tell how many times Ol' Bill has died, only to be resurrected and croak again in my cd player. Gotta love that repeat button.
Don't miss this one, it's special, and we need this kind of affirming release in these difficult days.