Eric Bibb & Habib Koite: Brothers in Bamako

American singer-guitarist Eric Bibb and West African singer-guitarist Habib Koité have joined forces for the new album, Brothers in Bamako. The two first met and became friends a decade ago when Putumayo Records invited both musicians to play on Mali to Memphis and they’ve finally gotten around to recording together. More than a simple duet album, Brothers in Bamako is a true collaboration. In addition to singing and playing together, Bibb and Koité co-wrote most of the songs to marry their respective folk-blues and world music styles. Brothers in Bamako will be released on Novemeber 6th.

I’ve been a fan of both artists for so long, I may have been a little too excited to hear their substantial talents unite. I was very disappointed with the two lackluster opening tracks, “On My Way to Bamako” and “L.A.” Perhaps the problem was that Bibb and Koité were divided for those introductory songs. The tracks co-written by and co-starring both artists are much more interesting.

Things greatly improve on their first proper collaboration, “Touma Ni Kelen/Needed Time.” As I’d hoped, Bibb’s gospel-influenced, bluesy folk style and Koité’s fusion of traditional and modern Malian rhythms complement each other perfectly.

The stand out tracks are the multi-instrumental duet “Tombouctou,” a revamped “With My Maker I Am One” (originally featured on Bibb’s Booker’s Guitar album), Koité’s haunting “Foro Bana” (from his Ma Ya album) and a beautifully subtle rendition of Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.”

Other highlights include “We Don’t Care,” the pretty instrumental “Nani Le” and the banjo-driven “Khafolé.”

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Eric Bibb Official Site
Habib Koité Official Site

Eric Bibb: Booker’s Guitar

Eric Bibb’s new album Booker’s Guitar, a tribute to Delta blues guitarist Booker White, will be released on January 26th. I was privileged enough to hear a small preview of Bibb’s new disc when I saw him play at Mountain Stage last year, and I’m happy to say the album lives up to that performance.

The title track softly opens Booker’s Guitar with the true story of how a fan brought Bibb a vintage steel-body guitar that once belonged to legendary bluesman Booker White. That guitar was what first inspired Bibb to record these songs.

It’s the pure Delta blues number “With My Maker I Am One” that really revs up the album. The rest of the disc follows that gorgeous traditional blues path, to which Eric Bibb’s rich voice is perfectly suited.

The liner notes include brief descriptions by Bibb of the stories behind each track. I was surprised to find that, with two exceptions, Bibb wrote all of the songs. He so flawlessly captures the sound of vintage blues that I thought it was a cover album.

The album’s only two covers are the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” in which Grant Dermody’s harmonica steals spotlight. As I’ve said before, “Wayfaring Stranger” is an easy song for just about any singer to do well. But Bibb’s heartfelt croon is definitely one of the best renditions I’ve ever heard.

Bibb calls his own “One Soul to Save,” which was partly inspired by James McBride’s novel Song Yet Sung, a sequel to “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” And “New Home” is a mellowly optimistic tune about a 1930s laborer with big dreams.

The somber “Flood Waters” was written about the great Mississippi flood of 1927, but it’s impossible not to think of Hurricane Katrina while listening to it.

“Turning Pages” is a wonderful theme song for bookworms like me. Bibb sings about his lifelong love of reading and mentions some of his favorite authors. Nancy Drew and Shakespeare set to the blues, no wonder I love this guy!

Eric Bibb – With My Maker I Am One (mp3 expired) *

*mp3 provided by & posted w/ permission of Telarc Records on behalf of Concord Music Group

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Eric Bibb Official Site

Mountain Stage: Vagabond Opera, Madison Violet, Eric Bibb, Brett Dennen, Sister Hazel

The November 16th show of Mountain Stage featured Vagabond Opera, Brett Dennen, Eric Bibb, Madison Violet, and Sister Hazel.

I was most excited about seeing Vagabond Opera, and they were fantastic! As expected, the kooky cabaret band put on a fun and dazzling set of songs from their new album, The Zeitgeist Beckons. Their colorful costumes and theatrics were fit for Vaudeville, and lead singer Eric Stern’s voice was astounding live. Their set was as entertaining for the eyes as it was the ears.

After the show, I introduced myself to saxophone player Robin Jackson and singer Ashia Grzesik. Ashia certainly is a multi-talented entertainer. She played the cello, sang a splendid rendition of “Ganef” (my favorite song from the album), and did a little Burlesque dancing during the other songs.

Considering the demented circus nature of their act, I was curious if they were fans of The Dresden Dolls. Jackson informed me that Vagabond Opera had performed with The Dresden Dolls and that Amanda Palmer was a big inspiration for them. No wonder I love them!

Scottish-Canadian duo Madison Violet followed with some melodic folk-country tunes from their new album No Fool for Trying. Their soft sound was a slight letdown after the sideshow act of Vagabond Opera, but their harmonies were even prettier live than on the album. The girls led the audience in a sing-a-long of “The Small of My Heart” and shared the tragic true story behind “The Woodshop.”

Eric Bibb was only recently added to the lineup before the show. I looked forward to seeing him perform live, since I loved his Get On Board album so much. Despite an audience member yelling a request for “Spirit I Am,” Bibb instead played songs from his upcoming album, Booker’s Guitar. The new songs were a mix of blues and soulful folk, and the highlight was his almost a capella (he was accompanied by a harmonica player) cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Bibb’s voice was beautifully rich in person, and his guitar work called to mind classic blues musicians. He earned the first standing ovation of the night.

Brett Dennen was another artist I was interested in seeing. He played songs from his latest release Hope for the Hopeless, as well as one tune from his previous release So Much More (I’d hoped for “The One Who Loves You The Most,” but it didn’t happen). Dennen’s set was a straightforward presentation of his signature pop-folk acoustics, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. He was such a hit with the crowd that he was granted an encore, during which he sang “Heaven.”

I was unimpressed by the country-pop direction of Sister Hazel’s new album Release, but I liked them a lot in the 1990s (particularly their song “Your Winter” from the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack). So I really hoped they’d win me over at Mountain Stage. They didn’t.

From the beginning, the band seemed out of place at the venue to me. For one thing, they wheeled in their own big amplifiers and the extra loud volume just didn’t seem to mesh well with the Mt. Stage sound system. Also, I couldn’t tell if the lead singer was sick or if he simply couldn’t compete with those amplifiers, but his voice cracked painfully when he attempted the high notes of “Your Winter” and “All For You.” That was particularly disappointing since I actually like those two songs.

I’ve seen and enjoyed plenty of other rock bands at Mountain Stage, so my dissatisfaction with Sister Hazel’s performance had nothing to do with the style of their music. And it was certainly an example of how subjective musical taste can be. The majority of the audience responded enthusiastically to the band, while other rows emptied out before the end of their set.

I will say that, despite the weaknesses of their performance, the members of Sister Hazel were very personable and self-deprecating between songs. And I heard several people raving about them after the show (though many said Vagabond Opera and Brett Dennen were the best of the night), so to each their own…

All of the artists returned to the stage for the group finale, a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi.”

Muruch Mt Stage Reviews