Eric Bibb • Friends

Manhaton Records/Pure Pleasure PPAN013
Double 180-gram-LP set
2004/2011

Music

Sound

by John Crossett | February 15, 2011

ombine the talents of folk-blues star Eric Bibb with a host of accomplished musical friends and you have the makings of a significant album. No guarantees, mind you, because all-star sessions that are actually worthwhile are rare indeed. However, here, paired with the talents of Taj Mahal, Guy Davis, Odetta, Charlie Musselwhite, Martin Simpson, Harry Manx, Ruthie Foster and a host of others, Bibb is in his element, playing spare blues with a innate understanding of tradition. Songs such as "The Cape," "Taint Such a Much," (with Odetta) and "Dance Me Till the End of Love" (with pianist Jerry Yester) say so much so well that they could be considered hits for Bibb.

Friends also has wonderful sonics. There’s space aplenty, along with tone and timbre that sound real. Most of all, though, there is a sense of presence, the feeling of actually being in the company of the musicians. On the opening of "The Cape," for example, Bibb is in-the-room real, a three-dimensional figure standing slightly in front of the plane of the speakers. His and Martin Simpson's guitars are rendered with incredible detail -- from the sound of the fingers on the strings to how those strings excite the wooden cavity. Female vocals are reproduced just as vividly. Notice, for example, how immediate Ruthie Foster sounds on "For You." This LP issue -– I can’t call it a reissue because this is its debut on vinyl -- is light years ahead of the pale imitation that is the CD. Perhaps the reason is the sparseness of the recording. Most of the tunes employ only two or three musicians tops, all of whom are deftly defined by the LP's inherent high resolution.

Praise also goes to Pure Pleasure Records for deciding to issue this artist's-best recording on what is still the finest readily available music medium extant. Friends is Bibb’s masterpiece, and we are finally able to hear it in sound that will come up short only in comparison to the master tapes.

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