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ERIC BIBB Diamond Days
Telarc Blues CD 83660(2006)

Easily one of the most impressive blues roots crossover albums of the year, 'Diamond Days' may well be the album on which Eric Bibb shifts from his role as a major contender to a heavy weight blues artist.

To these ears Bibb has often seemed to be the natural successor to Taj Mahal which in itself is no bad thing. But on 'Diamond Days' Bibb subtly seems to throw off the shackles, and positively steps into the spotlight with an album of infectious material that is full of self confidence, born of great songs and heartfelt lyrics. Yes it's the blues but it's a musical journey based on plaintive personal lyrics, intuitive playing, crammed full of deep blues grooves and real feel.

'Diamond Day's is an apt title for an artist who has real presence, lyrical integrity and some all too rare emotive phrasing. Everything seems relaxed, and yet strictly focussed. Every harp break, every finger picked phrase, and above all every sympathetic gospel backing vocal is there to colour the palate rather than act as a counterpoint for the shortcomings of the lead vocalist.

Eric doesn't have the most powerful of voices but he does have a priceless ability to use his voice to accentuate the most profound moments of his lyrical canon.

On 'So Glad' for example he phrasing brings out every nuance of a delicate soul ballad, while the finger picked simplicity of “Storybook Hero' is the perfect vehicle for a very effective love song. The equally impressive stripped down title track is a reflective piece embellished by some peerless acoustic slide guitar from Martin Simpson. It's the kind of subtle outing that might have come from Ry Cooder an artist over 20 years Eric's senior.

For the rest there plenty of variety here, but also a quality of consistency exemplified by the musically complex 'Heading Home' which is another autobiographically sounding piece on which Mars Oberg adds real pith on chromatic harp. And when it comes to gospel, Eric is his own man, again keeping his lyrical content simple but effective and effective as on the live 'In My Father's House'.

In many ways this is an album on which you can almost hear the artist reaching a new maturity with tracks like 'Forgiveness is Gold' a peace anthem for out times, and one of Eric's very best efforts.

And yes, to use that old cliché, Eric has matured like a vintage wine. He is lyrically inventive, and the collective playing is simply beautiful and his voice is dripping blues. The muted trumpet on 'Forgiveness is Gold' may be over egging the cake, but only because this is such a rich cake to begin with that the only production question here was probably what to leave out. Unreservedly recommended, this is an exceptional album.


Review by Pete Feenstra

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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