Friends is the accurate and revealing title for New York Bluesman Eric Bibb’s tenth album since 1997. The cuts here feature rootsy folk and blues collaborations with different ‘friends’ in differering small group settings. The set starts with a killer accoustic slide duet between Bibb and Guy Davis on the nugget ‘99 1/2 Won’t Do’. The control between Davis’ sweet and smoky delivery and Bibb’s husky wail – akin to Blind Willie Johnson’s in places – offers a double-sided dimension in interpretation for the listener, as well.
Elsewhere, Charlie Musselwite gives a killer snaky harmonica performance on ‘Six O’lock Blues’/ Taj Mahal makes two appearances; one in a duet on ‘Goin Down Slow’ and one in a trio with Bibb and Malian Guitarist Djellmady Tounkara on a medley of the traditional ‘Kulanjan’ and Bibb’s own ’Sebastiabns’s Tune’. Speaking of Mali, and Mahal. Bibb also covers the elder bluesman’s classic ‘Lovin in My Baby’s eyes’. with the great Kora player madou Diabate that rivals the original. There’s also a gorgeous version of Guy and Susanna Clark’s ‘The Capa’.with guitarist Martin Simpson, Bibb’s moving ‘For You’ with Ruthie Foster, and ’Tain’t No Such Thing’. a bright new folk song written and sung with legendary folk singer Odetta Mohan Veena ace Harry Manx performs with Bibb on the high lonesome, droning blues of ‘Needed Time’. and with Kristina Olsen on her ‘If I Stayed ’. The set closes with the tender ’Dance Me to the End of Love’, (an original, not the Leonard Cohen tune), with the Lovin’ Spoonful Jerry Yester playing piano.
Given that most records of this type are mixed bags at best with ‘star-studded’ collabs serving too much up or water down rather than enhance performances,’ Friends’ is an anomaly. There is nothing that’s obvious or overblown here, everything is subtly shaded, and the performances serve the songs and not themselves. The listener gets no sense of back patting or self-congratulation. only the great pleasure of hearing the music in a revealing, emotionally honest way. Bravo. Thom Jurek/AMG