The Happiest Man In The World
Eric Bibb has a new release with the band North Country Far on Stony Plain Records, "The Happiest Man In The World." Recorded in the English countryside, it has Bibb's vocals and guitar supported by North Far, musicians he met while living in Finland: Petri Hakala on mandolin and mandola and Olli Haavisto on dobro and weissenborn as well as other slide instruments and Janne Hakala on drums. They are also joined by legendary upright bassist Danny Thompson for this latest installment in the five-decades career of Bibb whose folk and blues roots continues to sprout exuberant as well as poignant new music.
Bibb's music has always been rooted in good songs, solid singing and guitar and an ear for fresh musical settings. North Country Far provides a definite string-band as well as country flavor to the music here and the songs themselves are usually far from the blues has got me down or mistreating women themes of many blues. The album opens with the title track has a lyric as he celebrates the woman who stands by him. His gruff vocals (reminds me of early Dylan but with the gentleness of a Mississippi John Hurt) are set against a jaunty backing with mandolin and dobro adding to the atmosphere. Bibb's lyrical gift is evident on "I'll Farm For You" in which Bibb incorporates a number of phrases, often used as double entredres, into what he would do for his woman, while on "Born To Be Your Man," where he sings Stevie Wonder was born to be the master blaster, Louis Jordan born to sing 'Caldonia,' Prince was born to sing Purple Rain,' Lazarus was born to rise again, and "You were Born to be my woman and I was born to be your man."
The folk side of Bibb can be heard on the lovely "Creole Café," as he sings about a place in the country, 40 miles west of Newport News where "she serves the gumbo and I serve the blues," with some nice mandolin fills during vocal, on the reflective ballad "Prison of Time," and charming "On the Porch." "Tell Ol' Bill" is a ballad that might not have been out of place in Leadbelly's repertoire (and Bibb recently issued an excellent Leadbelly tribute CD). There is also an atmospheric instrumental, "1912 Skiing Disaster" a love song "Wish I Could Hold You Now," before closing with a low-key cover of The Kinks "You Really Got Me" that after a pause segues into a short instrumental take of, "King-Sized Bed," as a bonus track.
There is so much to like about marvelous Eric Bibb's latest album. Perhaps not an album of deep acoustic blues, but with some wonderful songs (several worthy of covering) congenial quality and charm of these performances has considerable merit.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here, Eric Bibb performs with Olli Haavisto and Petri Hakala.