Following on a definitive piece of modern-day blues music that has catapulted Eric Bibb into the Grammy-nominated camp is no small feat. Ridin’, the latest album from the country legend, pushes on through with the core charms that have affected his music so far. Shimmering sophistication opens Family, the first of fifteen tracks that give way to the acoustic blues and soulful accompaniments of American standard-like pieces. Ridin’ is an integral and intense collection of message-driven pieces, a concept album that relies on its groovy, funk-clad nature. Interpretation of the blues genre and its intention is right at the forefront of this powerful release, as consistent as it is filled with all the systemic troubles of modern America. Bibb is a legendary name and charts another course through the heart of the United States.
Tasteful blues timings are right at the core of the well-structured title track Ridin’. Incredible, striking guitar work infused with the choppy laughter of Bibb makes for a welcoming, powerful song. With this tense and carefully structured blues charm comes a mixture of tonal feelings Richard Hawley and Bob Dylan provide in their respective works. Marrying them on 500 Miles is a treat. Improvements to Bibb’s unique style are founded on Tulsa Town, a superb consistency to it and the message at the heart of it. Yet other, ballad-like tracks, particularly The Ballad of John Griffin, have a Chicken in Black from Johnny Cash feel. Lucid and a little far-fetched, but still articulate a soft flow to the country ballads. Mixed bag albums are nothing new, but Ridin’ should and could have had more focus on its essential collection of tunes.
Collaborative endeavours with Jontavious Willis, Amar Sundy and Harrison Kennedy do little to shake off a cheap and dusty western movie feel, but the period piece style is cemented well. Stomps and shakes of twanging banjo qualities on Blues Funky Like Dat prescribe a modern blend of harmonica-led country and the pounding pace of fresh genres. Bibb and company modernise classic country style with genuine desire and care throughout Ridin’. Collaborating with Sundy on I Got My Own provides the best of the collaborative bunch, shifting the legendary Taj Mahal out of the potential top song spot. Bibb looks back on the fractured American roots of Call Me By My Name and shifts the tone nicely along with acoustic guitar-led blues force.
Forget the fancy stuff, as Bob Dylan once told Bibb. He has tones and moments that relay the same feel, that sharp cultural relevance, as the latter-day covers Dylan offered of the American songbook. Bibb sets out on a solid album, charting plenty of interesting tracks and pieces that rise to the occasion. It is somewhat sloppy in places, but as the album draws to a close, the perspectives and playing style come to life. Ending not with a slouch but a bang, Ridin’ is a lovely treat of a blues record that does not match the potential with consistency. Still, the crooning demands of Joybells and the live energy of Sinner Mann where the Eric Bibb String Band come through with a powerful presence are enough to satisfy the hungry blues fans out there.