Eric Bibb & J.J. MilteauEric Bibb & J.J. Milteau
Album: Lead Belly's Gold
Label: DixieFrog
Tracks: 16

Eric's sincere tribute to the music of Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter) comes in the form of a nicely relaxed good-time set recorded live at Paris jazz club Le Sunset not all that long ago (the otherwise excellent documentation doesn't tell us when). Eric, his 6- and 12-atring guitars (and in one instance, 6-string banjo) are joined onstage by French harmonica ace J.J. Milteau, whose genially accomplished style suits Eric's down to the ground and provides an ideal foil. His playing is a model of unobtrusive e sensitivity, yet adds so much to Eric's interpretations, while he still gets plenty of chances for a nifty solo (check out House Of The Rising Sun or Goodnight Irene, for instance). Grandstanding is never an option, thankfully.

Also putting in appearances are drummer Larry Crockett, bass player Gilles Michel (on three numbers), Big Daddy Wilson (backing vocals on five) and Michael Robinson (backing vocals on two), but there's no doubting that it's Eric's show, for Eric turns in some performances of masterly understanding that show he really gets the relevance of the now-timeless songs, most of which have become repertoire standards. Many have gotten stale over time, but here Eric invests them all with a tasty freshness and sharp-suited panache that you can't resist, while pointing up the meanings and correspondences with our own time that the songs' social commentaries may have lost in inferior auto-pilot session run-throughs by all and sundry over the decades.

Eric's latest rendition of Rock Island Line really steams along, while On A Monday and Pick A Bale Of Cotton get to emerge as immediate and new-minted as Bring A Little Water, Sylvie and the lesser-known Where Did You Sleep Last Night? and Grey Goose. However, fine though this easy-rollin' live set is, it's for the bonus material - five brand new studio tracks - that this disc will be most remembered in this house.

The first of these is an outstanding account of Bourgeois Blues (one of Ledbetter's most hard-hitting creations in its bold condemnation of racial segregation), while Eric wields that thar banjo most effectively on Titanic, and on an animated, funky take on Stewball he pays homage to his (since deceased) father Leon, who had recorded the song way back when with a group called The Skifflers.

The tracklist is completed by two of Eric's original compositions, in which he takes on the role of Lead Belly himself (addressing his former boss John Lomax on Chauffeur Blues, and sharing his life story on Swimmin' In A River Of Songs). Altogether, the affectionate Lead Belly's Gold makes for another fine album to add to the constantly expanding Eric Bibb catalogue; the man's unstoppable!

David Kidman