John’s Blues Picks Nov 2015 – Eric Bibb & JJ Milteau
With the recent release of the Smithsonian Lead Belly Box, this is a very timely disc, adding an exceptional contemporary tribute album to the legacy. Eric Bibb is the son of legendary folksinger Leon, of the generation following Lead Belly and he actually got to see him perform. But the repertoire would have been all around the Bibb household. As Eric states in the beautiful booklet, this music is in his DNA. JJ Milteau is the French harmonica virtuoso who explains there why Lead Belly’s music resonated in France. The project was recorded at a jazz club in Paris before an invited audience, in much the same kind of setting as Lead Belly’s performances.
Lead Belly ‘Gold’ is indeed what we get here with “On A Monday”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “Midnight Special”, “Goodnight Irene”, “Rock Island Line” and more with sparkling new arrangements and tempos that don’t stray too far from the originals and don’t make any concessions to more modern versions you may be more familiar with. “Grey Goose” opens a 12-song live set, with Bibb on vocals & acoustic guitar, Milteau on his arsenal of harmonicas and Larry Crocket adding remarkably effective percussion. “Midnight Special” & “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” feature additional lyrics and a harder blues voice from Bibb than we’re used to and are much the better for it. A Bibb-Milteau original on Lead Belly’s early days, “When I Get To Dallas”, has the young Lead Belly anxious to perform for Blind Lemon Jefferson – nicely done. Michael Robinson & Big Daddy Wilson add valuable backing vocals on several songs. Five studio songs end the disc and just lack the audience, while maintaining that warm ambience. Michael Jerome Browne guests on a couple of these. Bibb’s “Chauffeur Blues” imagines the Lomaxes driving Lead Belly around. This is just a lovely listening experience, sufficiently different to please Lead Belly fans and a wonderful introduction to those who aren’t.