Eric Bibb ‘Global Griot’ 2CD (DixieFrog/Stony Plain) 4/5

Acoustic blues guitarist and vocalist Eric Bibb returns for a double helping of the blues, but this time his global mission is enhanced by some unusual and highly successful blues-fusion hybrids, often with surprisingly positive results. It is the eclectic sound of Taj Mahal that immediately springs to mind when Bibb attempts to combine the blues with reggae elements, but Bibb pulls it off immaculately with the help of roots reggae greats. A case in point is the terrific ‘Grateful’ that features none other than the wonderful Glenn Browne on bass and that authentic reggae flavour is aided by the keyboard and co-production talents of Stephen Stewart. Indeed, others in the past such as Eric Clapton have covered reggae songs with ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ being the notable hit single, and reggae legend Ken Boothe takes centre stage to offer lead vocals on the intricate, ‘Mole on the ground’, that starts off in an instrumental acoustic blues mode for the first part, but one and a half minutes in, is suddenly transformed into a rousing reggae number, and it has to be stated that Boothe has the ideal voice to sing the blues just as Toots Hibbert has an innately soulful voice. Indeed, one could say that of several of the reggae greats from Alton Ellis through to Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs and beyond. Why not, then, devote an entire album to a ‘reggae meets blues’ album? Willie Nelson was critically acclaimed for his pioneering take on roots reggae from a country perspective and even though it did not fare commercially that well to begin with, times have changed and listeners are more at ease with different genres blending together. Elsewhere, Bibb gets moody on the acoustic guitar plus horns number, ‘All Because’, and this writer foe one would certainly like to hear more of this side of the leader’s wide repertoire. Likewise, the reposing fusion of the blues with West African music, and more specifically the mellifluous combination of kora and vocals contributed by Senegalese singer, Solo Cissokho on, ‘Picture A New World’, are a joy to behold. Gospel and blues are natural bedfellows and Linda Tillery contributes some lovely vocals on ‘New Friends’, with subtle accompaniment on a three-pronged guitar accompaniment. Not everything is as impressive and some of the other pieces are a tad too glossy in the production stakes for these ears. As a whole, however, this fusion works and when the music is pared down to just guitars, as on ‘Black, Brown and White’, the instrumentation wins through handsomely. Indeed, just listening to the guitar prowess of both Eric Bibb and those guesting is worth the investment on its own.

Tim Stenhouse