Eric Bibb & Needed Time
Spirit and the Blues
EarthBeat! (

The friendly, casual baritone of Eric Bibb, happily accented in a country blues style by his mostly Swedish ensemble, makes this 1994 recording now enjoying wide availability a fine introduction to the gospel side of blues, unthreatening even to the resolutely secular. Bibb's vocal performances are studies in restraint, whether rolling along with his own bouncy fingerpicked guitar, or merging in harmony with his backing chorus, the Deacons. Instrumentally, Göran Wennerbrandt's National bottleneck guitar stands out, but there isn't a weak link or a rough edge to found on this recording.

"In My Father's House" is an understated, shuffling acoustic blues, the Deacons' tasteful but sometimes surprising backing swelling unexpectedly behind Bibb's lead. The song delivers a quiet, convincing urgency. Bibb and his guitar can be taken straight on "I Am Blessed," plucked bass strings and strummed chords laying down a pleasant base for his smooth, emotive vocal. The Deacons return in a more rollicking mood on "Just Keep Goin' On," an upbeat celebration of positive thinking ("take every knock as a boost, every stumblin' block as a steppin' stone"), driven by bottleneck guitar, harmonica, and mandolin. "Meetin' at the Buildin'" drags in accordion and kongama drums to an irresistible New Orleans gospel reggae extravaganza, and Bibb's vocal power rises to the occasion. Even on the few purely secular songs on Spirit and the Blues, such as the happy, slack blues "Braggin'," Bibb delivers a positive message, in this case about a joyously harmonious romantic relationship. It's all constructed and performed with such unobtrusive master. Think of this as an opportunity, a steppin' stone. - Jim Foley