March 4, 2024

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CD review: Eric Bibb – Ridin – 2023: Video, CD cover

Two-time Grammy nominee and multiple Blues Music Award-winner, Eric Bibb reminds us what a brilliant storyteller and musician he is on his new album Ridin’.

A modern-day blues troubadour, Bibb has created a collection of musical stories about his ancestors and brings along guests Taj Mahal, Jontavious Willis, Russell Malone, Steve Jordan, and Habib Koité to join in on the musical narrative.

With beautiful melodies and superb musicianship, Bibb’s calm and measured vocals convey certain hard truths about racism and slavery in African American history. There’s also hope and uplift. The focus is on humanity. All 14 tracks are delivered with Bibb’s gentle vocal approach, allowing listeners to absorb stories buoyed by acoustic instrumentation and top-tier guest musicians.

Produced by Glen Scott, Ridin’ is Bibb’s follow up to his multiple award-winning album Dear America. Ridin’ is out March 24th on Stony Plain Records.

Ridin’ was inspired by the painting “A Ride For Liberty (1862)” by Eastman Johnson, depicting an African American family fleeing enslavement in the South during the civil war.

The US/EU Jazz & Blues Association (US/EU JBA): Who we are 2012 – 2023! Photo

Bibb says, “As a songwriter, studying African American history has always been a deep well of inspiration. The true stories of my ancestors and their communities are at the heart of many of the songs on my new album – Ridin’.”

The album kicks off with “Family,” an acoustic bass-driven number with plenty of groove. Uplifting and beautiful, the song is a profound statement of unity set to a sparse funky beat. The minimalist approach gives Bibb the time and space to impart the understanding that all people are the same and we don’t need to be divided. His relaxed vocals are hypnotic as is his six-string banjo. Bibb sings “I am like you. Born of a woman….You are like me, here to learn from history. You are like me, family.” The UMOJA Choir and backing singers Paris Renita,Ida Sandlund,Ulrika Bibb, and Leonella Bosch, India Scott, Aretha Scott, Linda Butseme, Rachel Idrona Biirah, Nicole Grenhagen, Jasmine Ahmad, Livia Panico echo pieces of Bibb’s lyrics on the track “Family” and others on the record.

The title track, “Ridin’” opens with resonator guitar and Bibb’s rich voice, a gospel flavored train-themed tune about freedom with Glenvin Anthony Scott sharing vocals. The slide guitar (Ola Gustafsson) over the chugging rhythm is haunting and moody. Bibb sings about the train riding to Memphis where Dr. Martin Luther King was killed, stopping in Rosewood, Selma, Gainesville and Mississippi. The message here is to get on board and to learn about the history.

With a five-decade career and 35-plus albums to his name, this gifted blues/roots singer, songwriter and guitarist Eric Bibb has created a profound concept album that’s as moving as it is compelling.

On “Blues Funky Like Dat’ featuring Taj Mahal and Jontavious Willis, Bibb gets down on his six-string banjo and lightens the mood. Taj Mahal hits the harmonica in between vocal vamping. When Jontavious Willis starts singing the next verse while playing acoustic guitar, you know you’re in for a great time.

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“The Ballad of John Howard Griffin” featuring Russell Malone on electric guitar, is some of the best kind of storytelling. Griffin wrote the 1959 bestseller “Black Like Me”, and this song is about his journey of darkening his skin and spending six weeks traveling to investigate the plight of African Americans in the South. Bibb reveals this historical and significant story with an easy going groove and major chords. Malone’s guitar riffs are melodic, superb.

On “Tulsa Town” about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Bibb sings about Greenwood Avenue, known as Black Wall Street and what happened there. Over acoustic guitar and a driving beat, he emphasizes the importance of learning about this piece of history, his voice soft, backed by a chorus of singers. Bibb’s delivery of this song and others on the record is spot on—the emphasis on the story or message. The music itself and songcraft is so well done you can easily become swept up, which I did.

You can’t help but being drawn into the songs by Eric Bibb on Ridin’ . Whether harrowing pieces of history or his depiction of hope and unification for everyone, most are deeply moving. One such song “Free,” featuring Habib Koité on acoustic guitar, Bibb sings, “If you hold on to what you got that reminds you of who you are, you’re free.”

Eric Bibb, Ridin', album cover

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