Eric Bibb is an enigma in the blues universe he is tangentially a part of. You won't hear staggering guitar solos or strict adherence to the rhythmic or thematic constructs of the blues idiom. He doesn't sing with overwrought melisma or exaggerated howls yet the power, passion, and emotion -- blues with a feeling, as Little Walter called it -- is felt in his every performance. He stays as close to or strays as far from the blues as the song warrants, often employing elements of African and World music rhythms and sounds in addition to jazz, folk, and gospel influences.
The title of his latest record, Jericho Road, refers to the road between Jericho and Jerusalem where the Good Samaritan stopped to help a man in need. This is the entry point to the record where Bibb tells his stories and delivers his message unflinchingly but without being strident or becoming pedantic. He references a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the night before his assassination in the liner notes, "Ultimately, you cannot save yourself without saving others." The truth of those words and power of that idea informs the songs of Jericho Road, a worldview built on love in the face of pain and hope in the face of injustice. He delivers that message with a voice imbued with reverence, wisdom, and strength.
The record opens with Bibb's arrangement of the traditional "Drinkin' Gourd," and it's perhaps the starkest, most somber moment on the record. The vocal is spot on and the subtle instrumentation beneath Bibb's acoustic guitar and voice create a beautiful ambiance for this powerful song. Sonic textures are again a strength on "Have A Heart," adding beauty to the song's urgent message and fervent hope. "With My Maker I Am One" first showed up on his acclaimed, wonderful Booker's Guitar album and gets re-worked here, where it fits well thematically.
"Let The Mother's Step In" is musically rich and an anthem that serves as a call to action. I can speak intelligently on many topics but the African-American experience isn't one of them, even if CNN thinks they can enlighten us all on what it means to be "Black in America." Bibb's lyrics identify complex crisis points and encourage change, pointing particularly to the power of women and mothers to lead and initiate change. "The Right Thing" explores similar themes, linking troubles of the present to wrongs of the past. Some bluesmen and songwriters would stop there while others would call for revolution. Bibb does neither, instead imploring us to remember the answer lies inside us all. "It's always the right time to do the right thing" may sound trite or simple in word but each day we are reminded just how difficult to travel that road is if we are mindful of the temptations that surround us and the choices we have and continue to make.
We all travel our own Jericho Road and if we are blessed, we are and meet many Good Samaritans on that journey. Bibb delivers that timeless message that has never been more timely with poignance and power.