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Eric Bibb Eric Bibb
Album: Migration Blues
Label: Dixie Frog
Tracks: 15

It's almost becoming a foregone conclusion, if not a tradition, that, almost before his last album's come off the player, leading bluesman Eric will deliver another magnificent new record stacked full of soulful rootsy bluesy compositions mostly of his own devising, steeped in the traditions of the music and fulfilling and creatively exploring its role as our social conscience. Migration Blues is the latest (the 37th, I believe!) in his illustrious series of CDs, and finds him exploring that oh-so-current theme with the assistance of musical associates Michael Jerome Browne and J.J. Milteau.

Of course, migration's a timeless theme, but Eric's special brand of cool, measured passion and compassion ensures a close bond with our own emotions through his deep-seated rapport with the sensibility of any right-minded human being. Ever thoughtful, Eric draws parallels between the history, the south-to-north movement of American refugees to flee poverty, and the present-day, where immigrants flee their war-torn homelands. In the context of an optimism for the fate of humanity, it's probably songs like Brotherly Love that prove most emblematic of Eric's worldview, while With A Dolla' In My Pocket exemplifies his modus operandi "when writing new blues tunes, I often find inspiration in what I imagine my elders would have wanted to say, but could not." This connects directly to the chillingly quiet-spoken way Eric tackles Dylan's Masters Of War, an outstanding, lonesome and desolate delta-blues-style interpretation that, like the previously-mentioned song, keeps the rage out of sight and is all the more powerful for it; here he hones in on that key combination of laconic observational bitterness and latent intense anger in the lyric (it ain't just ranting posturing). Then again, Eric's personal take on Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land has more impact for being reined-in rather than rabble-rousing. A comparable skill is evident in the album's pair of Markus and Browne co-writes (Blacktop and Four Years, No Rain), which brilliantly complement Eric's own compositions. The disc also contains three instrumentals - its title number, the brief ramble Postcard From Booker and a life-affirming cajun-style piece - the latter in particular expressing the resilience and rich cultural heritage of refugees.

Eric's liner notes speak simple volumes of the joy of making music and sharing it with his listeners, and the pervading spirit of peace and love transmits through the music, its overall uplifting demeanour espousing his personal mission "to encourage us all to keep our minds and hearts wide open to the ongoing plight of refugees everywhere".

In addition to Eric's own exemplary singing, we're treated to beautifully deft, delicate, niftily fingered, clear and crisp pared-down accompaniments, both homespun and intently adept, configured on an assortment of acoustic six- and twelve-string, slide and resonator guitars, banjos and occasional mandolin and harmonica, with limited embellishment from drummer Olle Linder on a couple of tracks and guest backing vocals from Big Daddy Wilson (on Prayin' For Shore) and Ulrika Bibb (on the closing spiritual Mornin' Train). The engineering is faithful, and atmospherically preserves the intimate nature of Eric's performing style. And as has become customary with Eric Bibb releases, this latest disc is impeccably and stylishly packaged, with full lyrics and credits reproduced within the fulsome 32-page accompanying booklet.

David Kidman