By Donald Teplyske
Few artists record forty-plus albums. Fewer still seldom repeat themselves.
Eric Bibb is one such musician, a bluesman who doesn’t fit the mould. Like Ray Davies, you sometimes overlook Bibb, but when he releases an album or comes to your town, you either take notice or live with regret.
Within a tradition that stretches into the past via Fannie Lou Hamer, Bill Broonzy, Barbara Dane, Pete Seeger, and Brother John Sellers, as well as innumerable traditional blues voices, on Migration Blues Bibb surveys his surroundings, and doesn’t much care for what he sees. Singing, “If there’s a road to a peaceful country, where the people have pity on a homeless man, Lord make that highway my way, make it my road to the Promised Land,” Bibb gives voice to those forced into the position of refugee, looking for the safety their homeland no longer provides.
Joining forces with frequent collaborator and harmonica player J. J. Milteau and Canadian Michael Jerome Browne, Bibb has created another vigorous, attention-worthy collection of vibrant blues, this time with the sharp edge of folk indignation. "Prayin is deceptively gentle if one isn’t attending to the lyrics:
“Our salty tears rejoin the sea,
bowin’ our heads;
weepin’ for the ones still livin’,
for the dyin’ and the dead.”
Bibb and his collaborators are not holding back, are most obviously not willing to go quietly into the night, ignoring those scattered to the wind by the sea.
Anger and frustration are apparent, but so is hope, as when Bibb sings of “Brotherly Love” and “Diego’s Blues.” The instrumental title track contains a world of emotion, with the two guitarists communing over slide guitars while Milteau seasons the mix with desperation. Similarly, Bibb looks to the past, to a time when in certain parts of America one might witness, “a man hangin’ from a cypress tree” and know simple observation of such was perilous. Unspoken and unanswered is the question, “How far are we today from similar circumstance?”
Within the quality liner notes contained with the album, Bibb writes, “prejudice towards our brothers and sisters who are currently called ‘refugees’ is the problem. Fear and ignorance are the problems. Refugees are not ‘problems’—they are courageous fellow human beings escaping dire circumstances.”
Over fifty minutes, Bibb, Browne, and Milteau explore what it means to be human and humane in these days of challenge and confusion. Featuring originals as well as covers of Dylan (“Masters of War,”) Guthrie (“This Land Is Your Land,”) and the African-American spiritual “Mornin’ Train,” Eric Bibb has again created an album that is memorable and weighty. The approach is forthright but not heavy-handed; as singers within blues and folk have done for centuries—whether following a drinking gourd or crossing deserts in search of life free of persecution—Bibb, Browne, and Milteau are communicating stories to be shared.
Acoustic music doesn’t come better than Eric Bibb’s Migration Blues.