On Eric Bibb’s website, in preparing for this interview, I watched the film clip for new track, ‘Bayou Belle’. It’s the first track to be released from Bibb’s upcoming new album, Deeper In The Well, what will be the 15th record under his own name. It’s a track steeped in swampy grooves, it nods its head to the blues and courtesy of a quick little banjo shuffle, gives off more than a whiff of bluegrass – it’s a finger-snappin’ tail shaker, and it more than whets the appetite for what’s soon to come.
“Yeah, it does have that swampy feel to it, and other tracks on the album have that too, and other ones sound even more old timey, kinda like country music, and there’s some blues tunes on there that are played in that Louisiana style,” Bibb smiles, regaling me with what to expect once Deeper In The Well is released in March, just in time for what will be his seventh tour of Australia.
And it’s an album which is somewhat of a departure for Bibb too. Not so much in sound – he’s always been known as a world-class purveyor of blues-soaked folk tunes – but in the way it came together, Bibb teaming up with friends old and new to bring an “acoustic band” feel to the whole thing. “Well, it was amazing to be down in Louisiana first of all,” he tells, having made the album down in the Bayou State late last year. “And it was doubly amazing to be able to make some music with some great players.
“So originally I thought it was time to make an acoustic band album,” he goes on, getting into the nitty gritty. “I’ve been doing a lot of projects [recently]… I’d done a solo acoustic record (Blues, Ballads & Work Songs, ’11) and I’d done quite a lot of studio work involving larger productions with my friend Glen Scott, and so I thought a group, acoustic band record with mostly newer songs – along with traditional songs, because I always like to combine the two – [would be good]. And I wanted to reconnect with harmonica player Grant Dermody, who played on Booker’s Guitar (’10).”
From this idea, Deeper In The Well began to take shape – and you only have to watch the clip for ‘Bayou Belle’ to see why Bibb wanted to work with Dermody again – the man can wail. From there then, it was a matter of finding the right musicians – can’t be too hard in Louisiana, right? “My American agent suggested Dirk Powell, who I’d heard about but never played with,” Bibb relates. “He plays fiddle, accordion, mandolin, guitar, bass, piano, he’s whiz kid. In fact, he’s been on tour with Joan Baez for the past few years, he’s her accompanist.
“So then I happened to meet [Dirk] in Scotland [not long before we started] and we got a chance to play, and the idea had been proposed to him before I met him,” Bibb tells. “And he was up for it because he has a great studio in Lafayette… so we knew it would work. So we went ahead with it, Dirk brought in another player, Cedric Watson, who’s a great Creole fiddler and accordion player… and together with a local drummer named Danny Devillier, basically the four of us put together this record in Dirk’s studio.”
Deeper In The Well will be the culmination of some fine chemistry between all players concerned, and seems to be, for Bibb, a bit of a chance to relax a bit after the solo acoustic Blues, Ballads & Work Songs from last year. This also shows how busy Bibb has been – two records within the space of a little over a year – but there’s more – when I speak to Bibb, he’s only just back from Mali where he’s been working with Malian musician, Habib Koite, on a project he’s more than a bit excited about.
“That was an amazing, wonderful experience,” Bibb beams on his recent musical trip. “The story goes back a while, it took a while to come to fruition. 10 years ago, a song of mine was featured on a compilation called Mali To Memphis, and on that compilation was also Habib Koite. We happened to be in the States on tour at he same time, and so [they] put together a little promo tour, which was the first time I met him to play music together.
“Anyway, so we had the chance on this little tour, in the dressing rooms, to play together and there was a real compatibility there,” he goes on. “So we continued to bump into each other until finally my French agent said to me, ‘Listen, I think it’d be really good if you did something with Habib’… and I said sure.
“What we discovered… was that we’re both basically acoustic finger-style players,” Bibb tells on what the collaboration turned up sonically. “His Malian traditions are unique, but they are definitely connected to and related to the country blues finger-styling Piedmont style of my playing. So I’d be able to play a traditional tune or something, and Habib would be able to jump in and play around that in a beautiful way that was not strictly the American perspective.”
Well, that makes two Eric Bibb records I need to get my hands on now (once the latter is released), but as has always been the case, that’s not something I’m complaining about.
Samuel J. Fell
Deeper In The Well will be available in March through Stony Plain Records. See Gig Guide for tour dates.