Rarely has a title been more appropriate for an album. “Griot – (in West Africa) a member of a caste responsible for maintaining an oral record of tribal history in the form of music, poetry and storytelling.” Troubadour Eric Bibb works with numerous musicians throughout the world for this major project, Global Griot, that was recorded in seven countries and in twelve different studios. Ten people have their names in producer credits and twelve engineers participate.
Two-time Grammy-nominated and multiple BMA winner Bibb, who might have the smoothest voice apart from the late Sam Cooke, is generally acknowledged as a blues/folk/world music artist and while you hear all those styles here, we could just as easily include gospel and soul too. Bibb can count over 30 albums in his storied career that began over 40 years ago. Obviously, he’s met many fellow musicians along the way and has an early start being born into musical royalty in New York City. His father was noted folk singer Leon Bibb, and his uncle was John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Legendary actor/singer/activist was Eric’s godfather.
Recorded in Sweden, France, UK. Canada, Jamaica, Ghana and America, the project features special guest appearances by World Music’s Habib Koite, with whom Bibb recorded his stellar 2012 album Brothers in Bamako. Joining also is West African musician Solo Cissokho, a master of the 22-stringed harp, the kora, an instrument that many blues fans first heard on Johnny Copeland’s 1986 African collaborative Bringing It All Back Home. Other world music artists and vocalists appear along with special guest, Bibb’s long-time friend and Canadian roots/soul powerhouse Harrison Kennedy who sings on four tracks. Bibb’s wife Ulrika, Paris Renita, Linda Tillery, and Ken Boothe also make strong vocal contributions in addition to choirs on some songs.
As the album unfolds, the combinations and blend of instruments is often stunning and sneakily soulful. Bibb voice has absolutely no tinges of anger but his lyrics poignantly comment on the current state of the world, almost from the outset. Following the opening “Gathering of the Tribes,” featuring Cissokho on Kora and duet vocals, Bibb brings in horns for the bitter “Wherza Money At.” That begins a three-song sequence where “”Human River” speaks to the power of protest and “What’s He Gonna Say Today” is one of this year’s best songs directed at POTUS 45. Bibb condemns our desire for conspicuous consumption in he bitter “We Don’t Care,” provides another rallying cry in “Hoist Up the Banner” and makes several statements on racism beginning with his cover of Bib Bill Broonzy’s “Black, Brown & White,” featuring Kennedy’s vocals. Kennedy also contributes on “Brazos River Blues,” the groove-laden “Listen for the Spirit” and “Spirit Day.” The tunes “We Don’t Care” and “Mami Wata/Sebastian’s Tune” feature Habib Koite singing and playing acoustic guitar in tandem with Bibb.
Growing up in NYC’s Village folk scene, Bibb was naturally influenced by Dylan, Baez and Seeger who were also frequent visitors to his home. He also counts Odetta, Richie Havens, and Taj Mahal as major influences and their echoes are all over his catalog as well as being present here. Gospel strains are evident in “Send Me Your Jesus,” “Let God” and the old folk standby, “Michael, Row da Boat Ashore,” among several tunes. Bibb begins the second disc, Act Two, with “Race & Equality” and offers a coherent group of songs centered on our need for unity. Among the highlights here is “Spirit Day,” which features another album prominent player, Michael Jerome Brown on fretless gourd banjo and guitar as well as Cissokho on kora and vocals along with Kennedy. The traditional “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream” features Ulrika Bibb on vocal. Linda Tillery takes an especially soulful turn on “New Friends” and Ken Boothe brings his touch to “Mole in the Ground.”
Bibb is totally adept at marrying the African roots of blues with the American styles, is more than willing to share the spotlight with gifted musicians from all over the globe and is fearless in his approach where commentary on the current state is ultimately positioned as cries for a hopeful future. It may be rather bold to mark this as Bibb’s best, considering his impressive 40-year body of work, but it should certainly earn another Grammy nomination or two. It’s clearly among the best of this year’s roots music albums.