Eric Bibb – Migration Blues
Stony Plain Records SPCD 1395
15 songs – 49 minutes
Veteran acoustic tunesmith Eric Bibb delivers a strong political message in his latest release, the 37th album in his illustrious catalog, as he compares the pilgrimage of former slaves and sharecroppers from the American South to better lives in the North with the plight of immigrants seeking redemption from war-torn foreign lands today.
The son of Leon Bibb, a superstar on the New York folk scene in the ‘60s, Eric’s traveled the world steadily since taking up the blues in his 20s, and he’s an emigrant himself – first settling in Sweden and now Finland. “I want to encourage us all to keep our minds and hearts wide open to the ongoing plight of refugees everywhere,” he insists. “As history shows, we all come from people who, at some time or another, had to move.”
A gifted songwriter and storyteller who relishes his exposure he gets to different cultures in his travels, Bibb delivers 11 originals and three covers while accompanying himself on guitar, six-string banjo and contrabass guitar. Recorded in Quebec, and richly annotated, Migration Blues gathered a collection of top-flight musicians from around the globe.
Michael Jerome Browne, a two-time solo artist of the year in the Canadian Folk Awards, provides guitars, banjos, mandolin, triangle and backing vocals, while Frenchman JJ Milteau, a national award-winner who’s worked with Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand, contributes harmonica. They team tightly for an instrumental number, during which Eric takes a break. Swedish multi-instrumentalist Olle Linder adds percussion and bass, while North Carolina-based Big Daddy Wilson provides vocals on one cut, and Ulrika Bibb does the same on another.
“Refugee Moan” features Eric on baritone guitar accompanied by Michael on gourd banjo for a simple, but powerful message: “If there’s a train that will take me there/Take me where I can live in peace.” Next up, the theme for “Delta Getaway” was based on a conversation Bibb had with an elder blues musician decades ago and relates being chased by dogs as the man tried to escape Mississippi for a better life Chicago.
“Diego’s Blues” describes the difficult life of Mexican migrants in Yazoo County, Miss., in the 1920s. It’s based on details Eric discovered while browsing the Internet. Next up, “Prayin’ For Shore” describes the recent, tragic attempts of Africans attempting to flee to Europe. The moody instrumental “Migration Blues” features Bibb playing slide on a 12-string guitar, accompanied solely by Milteau on harp.
Next up is the poignant “Four Years, No Rain” – written by Browne and B.A. Marcus. It deals with the plight of refugees seeking Paradise as well as relief from starvation and warfare raging in their homeland. Bibb goes to another source for the tune that follows. “We Had To Move” is based on accounts provided by the family of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business in James McBride’s book, “Kill ‘Em And Leave: Searching For James Brown And The American Soul.” It depicts forced migration after the government claimed the family’s land.
A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War” precedes “Brotherly Love,” an upbeat number that provides a glimmer of hope amid all the despair. It states Bibb’s belief that, ultimately, human nature will overcome worldwide subjugation. Milteau and Browne spell Eric to deliver the instrumental “La Vie C’est Comme Un Oignon (Life Is Like An Onion)” before “With A Dolla In My Pocket,” based on statements from older bluesmen to Bibb that the only way to survive racial oppression was to hide your rage as best you can.
A traditional cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” follows before another instrumental, “Postcard From Booker,” a solo performance delivered on a National steel guitar once owned by first-generation superstar Booker – a/k/a “Bukka” — White. The album concludes with “Blacktop,” which states that “everyday, seems like murder here,” and the traditional spiritual, “Mornin’ Train,” on which the singer’s headed for his heavenly reward and which brings full circle the theme stated in the opener.
Powerful stuff from beginning to end from one of the most thoughtful musicians on the planet. The message runs deep as the mighty Mississippi. My only regret about Migration Blues is that the people who need to hear and understand it the most are the folks who’ll refute its meaning or never give it a listen.