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Eric Bibb’s ‘Live at The Scala Theater’ album review

VARESE may 13, 2024- author GIANNI BERALDO-

The New York bluesman Eric Bibb succeeded. He managed once again to touch the emotional chords of us perennial dreamers, authors of the essence, of concreteness, of unsparingly dissecting what perhaps only blues music can instill, avoiding any type of compromise in a direct way and without too many frills.

Dogmas that Bibb decided to immortalize in the beautiful live album recorded last year at the Scala Teatro in Stockholm, entitled Live at The Scala Theatre.

Concert which sees the 73-year-old songwriter in great form, performing his best on the stage of the historic Swedish venue ‘armed’ with only an acoustic guitar accompanied by an amazing band made up partly of excellent local musicians, partly one already consolidated over years of concerts.

A lineup that includes, among others, Hanna Helgegren (1st violin), Sarah Cross (2nd violin), Christopher Ohman (viola), Josef Ahlin (cello), Erik Avinder and David Davidson (strings), without forgetting one of the vocalists, as well as his wife , Ulrika Bibb, guest for an epic evening.

It is not Eric’s first live performance in his very long career which began in 1972 with the album Seans the best, later releasing over thirty albums including four live albums (the latest being Troubadour Live With Staffan Astner in 2011). But in this case the American artist wanted to leave an indelible mark of his crystalline class by choosing a repertoire that looks little to the past, showing off sumptuous versions of songs taken from relatively recent albums, such as the latest and successful Dear America of 2021 or well three songs from 2018’s inspired Global Riot.

Ten songs in total. Ten pearls played by God right from the opening Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad (from the 2012 Brothers in Bamakó album) with the audience warming up straight away with the effective pace of the guitar and harmonica, useful to reiterate that the simple four-bar blues pattern always works; especially if the one telling stories, sometimes tinged with sadness and sometimes with happiness, is a voice like that of Eric Bibb.

“I took my guitar, my tormented heart and I set off on a journey” says Bibb in the subsequent Silver Spoon from Blues People in 2014 with references to people of the caliber of Muddy Waters or Keb Mo, with the minimal sound of the band that takes us back to small club concerts of the past in smoky venues in Chicago or Louisiana.

We return to the present with the folk blues ballad Along The Way where Bibb’s more than 70 vocal performances still stand up to comparison with less elderly artists, thrilling to the max.

The setlist could not miss a classic like Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie (Lead Belly’s working song) made even more effective by the fiddle sound of the two violinists and an excellent rhythmic base.. Massive dose of classic blues à la Taj Mahal in the following and the unreleased Things Is ‘Bout Comin’ My Way (precursor single of the new studio album not yet released), great piece!

With the song Rosewood we delve into country blues and Americana territories where once again Eric’s acoustic arpeggiation and Hanna Helgegren’s violin show off great class appreciated by the audience.

From the excellent album Dear America, Bibb also chooses the song Whole World’s Got The Blues, another semi-acoustic blues to make you move your legs, which takes us back to things by Buddy Guy.

For blues music and its performers, the river is like an introflection into the purity of the soul, where one can wash away sins or start new loves. So Eric, to tell a story where these contrasts and anxieties forcefully emerge, chose River Blues (also from Global Riot), an imaginative folk blues song that leaves its mark.

Live that turns to the epilogue with an atmospheric song like 5oo Miles leaving room for the final Mole in The Ground, almost a ballad with Irish-like references where the whole band carves out a space for itself, with Eric who at the end invites the audience to sing in unison the refrain “Mole in The Ground”, reciprocated by great affection and convinced applause for a truly special evening, for a concert.

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