Eric Bibb and J.J. Milteau ‘Lead Belly’s Gold’ (DixieFrog) 4/5

eric-bibb-jj-milteauFolk-blues is Eric Bibb’s speciality and this mainly live recording from the Sunset club in Paris, augmented by five studio numbers, pairs the blues guitarist with one of Europe’s finest blues harmonica players in J.J. Milteau. The focus is on intimate interplay and in this endeavour the duo conjur up some wonderful moments together. An inventive take on the standard, ‘The house of the rising sun’, receives an achingly slow rendition and as a result adds a chilling poignancy to the lyrics. Taking on folk ballads is a Bibb trademark and ‘Good night Irene’ is the kind of tune that outlaw country wordsmith Willie Nelson might attempt. Blues and gospel have always been close cousins despite assertions to the contrary and a medley of ‘When that trains comes along/Swing low, sweet chariot’ works a treat and is gently uplifting in tone with fine harmonica work by Milteau. On several numbers, Big Daddy Wilson contributes backing vocals. Of the studio numbers, the Dylanesque hues of the folk-blues song ‘Grey goose’ stands out, as does the melodic mid-tempo ‘Bourgeois Blues’, while the Bibb original ‘Chauffeur Blues’ is a fine example of his song writing craft. The lovely warm and intimate live sound recording comes courtesy of Agnès Minetto. Bilingual English and French inner sleeve notes shed light on the individual songs and are in keeping with a French label devoted to exploring and dissecting the blues. This introspective offering showcases the contemplative side of the blues and makes for a refreshing change of tempo at a time of year when the rest of the planet are seemingly in overdrive. This is music to relax to and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Tim Stenhouse