Lead Belly’s Gold

Eric Bibb And JJ Milteau

Stony Plain Records, 2015


REVIEW BY: David Bowling


Eric Bibb’s father Leon was a regular on the 1960s folk scene, so it is only natural that Eric followed in his musical footsteps. He has always taken more of a blues approach than his father and his music has expanded in a number of directions at times, but at its heart, his foundation remains folk music.

Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, has influenced three generations of musicians. His primitive folk and blues songs are pure Americana at its most basic. His original compositions and adjusting a number of traditional songs have been passed down to thousands of folk and blues musicians. Now, Eric Bibb and harp player JJ Milteau have issued a tibute album that comes straight from the heart.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Lead Belly’s Gold contains 11 live tracks recorded at The Sunset Jazz  Club in Paris, plus five studio tracks tacked on at the end. While the majority of the music is straight from the Lead Belly songbook, there are several original tribute songs.

Bibb’s voice is lighter and more easygoing, and his approach to the music is more complex, which adds up to a good modern day approach to Lead Belly’s music. Milteau is a superb harp player and brings new textures to the music. For the purist, Lead Belly only rarely used harpist Sonny Terry, so these are modern day additions to the music.

“Rock Island Line,” “Pick A Bale Of Cotton,” “Goodnight Irene,” and “When I Get To Dallas” are fine live versions that channel Lead Belly’s Stage presence. His take on “The Midnight Special” and the traditional “House Of The Rising Sun” show Bibb’s ability to transform a song and make it his own while still paying homage to its roots.

Perhaps the best song is a spiritual medley of “When That Train Comes Along/Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” It is a place where his and Lead Belly’s sensibilities meet.

The studio recordings are different from the live tracks. More effort seems to have gone into them, which hurts the spontaneity and energy that was built up with the live recordings. He probably should have recorded one disc live and one in the studio and kept them separate. Ledbetter’s “Stewball,” “Bourgeois Blues,” and “”Titanic” all have a traditional approach. Bibb’s own “Chauffeur Blues” could have been written by Lead Belly. His “Swimmin’ In A River Of Songs” is a heartfelt tribute to his idol.

Eric Bibb’s decision to record the music of Lead Belly has been over four decades in the making. This release is a good reinvention of the music of one of America’s legendary troubadours.

Rating: B+

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