Digging deep for musical treasure
One thing you are not going find in this music column is stories about big name stars. I tend to gravitate toward people making music who are doing it on their terms, with their sometimes-meager budgets, utilizing friends and studios to create their own vision. Independent artists releasing their music on their own, or on small labels that caters to that ilk of artist, is what I find appealing. It’s how all forms of music started many, many years ago before the mega record labels realized that was gold at the end of the musical rainbow.
Over the past few months, I have received a lot of music in the mail by many artists who fall into that category. You may not hear them on the radio around here, although it would be nice. Artists like Roy Trevino, Lisa Biales, the legendary blues band The Nighthawks, blues master Eric Bibb, Australian singer-songwriter and hot guitarist Geoff Achison, cowboy folkie Ian Tyson, and the Essential Collection from Omar and the Howlers.
Not exactly household names, but I gotta tell you, there is some great music in those grooves. I would guess my favorite of the lot is the Eric Bibb disc titled “Deeper in the Well.”
Bibb was born into a musical family and raised in New York City. His father is noted folk singer Leon Bibb and his uncle was John Lewis, the world-famous jazz pianist and composer of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Legendary actor/singer/activist Paul Robeson was Eric’s godfather, and some of the musical friends who would be seen and heard around the Bibb household in those days included Pete Seeger, Odetta and Bob Dylan.
The music on “Deeper in the Well” is blues, no doubt, but with a bluegrass feel as well, thanks to Cedric Watson’s fiddles, Grant Dermody on harmonica, and utility player Dirk Powell who plays a fretless banjo, fiddle, mandolin, accordion, bass, and banjo and also sings. Even Dobro superstar Jerry Douglas appears on the track “In My Time,” which is one of the best songs on the disc. It was at Dirk Powell’s studio in Pont Breaux, Louisiana where this CD was born.
Nine of the album’s 13 songs were written by Eric Bibb and the four outside tunes are all outstanding choices including the disc’s title tune, “Dig A Little Deeper in the Well,” a song by Roger Bowling and Martha Jo Emerson that has been a bluegrass standard as well as a gospel standard. Bibb combines the two to make it work within the textures of all the other songs on the record. “Could Be You, Could Be Me” is a song by Kennedy Harrison about the homeless and Bibb brings home the point when he sings, “They are the homeless, now here’s some news, Oh, one day, could be me, could be you.”
The third outside song is Bob Dylan’s “The Times they are A Changin’” which almost closes the album, and is a fitting end to all of the music that had preceded it. Bibb’s vocal rendition conveys the lyric message in a way that eluded the original Dylan version. And the actual ending of the disc is a beautiful solo harmonica piece, presumably played by Grant Dermody, which goes uncredited on the album’s liner notes. Eric Bibb channels Taj Mahal’s “Wind in the River,” with such a laid-back feel that makes you think it is a hot summer day on the river and all you have to do is swat mosquitoes away as you listen.
The entire album is a lesson in laid-back musicianship; nothing is played over the top. Bibb’s own songs, such as the opening “Bayou Bell,” “In My Time” and the poignant “Sittin’ in a Hotel Room” truly make this album one worth buying. “Music” and “Money in your Pocket” are two additional distinct styles of music that Eric Bibb wraps his voice around and defies being pigeonholed as blues, jazz, swing or bluegrass. As his song says, “Music is more than an expert’s description. Don’t care if it’s French, Hawaiian or Egyptian. If I feel it, that’s good enough for me.”
Over the course of many album releases, Eric Bibb has been nominated from multiple Blues Music Awards in several categories. In addition to the Grammy-nominated “Shakin’ a Tailfeather” children’s album (which also featured Taj Mahal), some of his other noted albums included “A Family Affair,” which teamed him up with his father for a series of duets and solo tunes; and “Friends,” which included special guests Taj Mahal, Odetta, Charlie Musselwhite and Guy Davis.
“Deeper in the Well” has been the surprise release of the year for me. It is such an easy album to listen to and can easily transport you to another place and another time. It is infectious, fun, as well as serious, but mostly, it is a well-produced, independent project that deserves a lot of attention. So, it’s in my car, on my iTunes and played constantly while sitting on the deck sipping a cool beverage. Thanks, Eric, I’ll have another.