Beauty is not always simple, and brilliance and excellence are not simple. The relationship of one kind of ethic to another—for instance, an ethic founded in reason, science and civil liberties versus a religious ethic—is not simple.
By Daniel Garrett
A Ship Called Love
Treola Records, 2005
Eric Bibb’s music is perfectly pleasant, but I would like more than that. His song “A Ship Called Love” shares a subject with Curtis Mayfield’s song “People Get Ready” (the album A Ship Called Love is dedicated to Mayfield); and Bibb’s “Victory Voices” is an affirmation of the human spirit, of community (I don’t suppose one can have too many of those, nor do I suppose that there are many times when that will be as exciting as it is comforting). Eric Bibb advocates the simple life. The possibility of travel and wealth is acknowledged but does not lead to dissatisfaction in an ordinary life in “Right Where You Are,” a song featuring a contemporary blues rhythm and a harmonica. A stark, dramatic arrangement is given to a song—“Like Aretha Loves to Sing”—testifying to love: “I love you like Aretha loves to sing.” And, there is a kind of soft soul vocal, kind of Sam Cooke, in “I’ll Never Lose You”; and in “The Way You Are,” a light blues with a strong beat, detailed horns, and maybe an organ too, a man tells a woman that she doesn’t have to become more glamorous to please him. Eric Bibb’s voice takes on an intimate shading—male, direct, sincere—with guitar backing in “Stickin’ to You,” and in the song the singer comes closer to the North American singer-songwriter tradition and also the contemporary ballad than to traditional blues. There are even accents—sounds—that seem Eastern or Asian in the song, which appears less simple the more one contemplates it: it expresses male commitment and tenderness, which might be compared to water and shade in a desert. Those aspects make the song one of the more impressive and memorable songs in the collection. In the narrative of the song “Troubadour” is an artist-lover figure, someone who is an appreciator of gospel, soul, and blues, and Eric Bibb, narrator, is joined by a woman vocalist so that she, too, is a troubadour—or an aspect of the male troubadour’s consciousness. “That’s What I Do” is a love ballad; and a youthful voice opens “Turning World” and affirms the need to leave suffering behind, and Bibb sings of the difficulties others have and his gratitude for love. His perspective is changed, is different, when he sings “sho’ got the blues this morning—a lowdown feeling I can’t deny” in the song “More o’ That,” a meditation on the travails of life that identifies stresses and tensions in a way that’s very reasonable: so that the singer is not overwhelmed by feeling. “What I won’t do is blame it on you,” he sings. It’s a blues song that goes against a traditional blues sensibility—blues music without blues content (blues music that doesn’t give pain to give pleasure, but rather acknowledges pain and offers insight and sympathy, wisdom). In “Faded Jeans,” a lover is identified with country simplicity. Eric Bibb’s many tributes to the simple begin to seem a significant theme, and I know it affirms what many people live, and even contains a moral vision—respect other people, respect the world—but the wider world in which we live has more than simple folk, simple objects, and simple realities. Beauty is not always simple, and brilliance and excellence are not simple. The relationship of one kind of ethic to another—for instance, an ethic founded in reason, science and civil liberties versus a religious ethic—is not simple. International relations are not simple. Sometimes one has to be patient with, and even endorse, abstraction, artifice, complexity, elitism, obscurity, pretension, and sophistication. Sometimes the truth, as well as necessity, is to be found in the difficult. Eric Bibb’s “When I Hear the Waves” is a pretty song in both instrumentation and theme (it moves toward the classical); and the album closes with a light, lively original hymn of encouragement and spiritual peace, “Praise ‘n’ Thanksgiving.”
Daniel Garrett has written about music for AllAboutJazz.com, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Option, and PopMatters.com, including commentary on Sade, the Afghan Whigs, Tupac Shakur, Kitchens of Distinction, Matthew Sweet, and Annie Lennox. Garrett’s commentaries on Ben Harper, John Mayer, Keb Mo, Cassandra Wilson, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Lizz Wright, Sinead O’Connor and Al Green have appeared on the web pages of The Compulsive Reader. “I like the blues for its drama and metaphors, for its sensuality, for the respect paid to human resilience,” says Garrett. Daniel Garrett has written also about art, books, business, film, and politics, and his work has appeared in The African, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Offscreen, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today.