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A Ship Called Love

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Album Review

Eric Bibb has been generally categorized as an acoustic blues player, but like Keb' Mo', the contemporary artist he most resembles, Bibb actually only uses blues forms on occasion, and it no doubt helps to get the listener in the door, but what is really on display here is a smooth-as-velvet singer/songwriter. It's curious that he dedicates A Ship Called Love to the great Curtis Mayfield, because Bibb is really much closer to Mayfield in tone and approach than he is to a Blind Lemon Jefferson, say, and the title cut here, which leads off the album, owes more than a little to Mayfield's faux gospel classic "People Get Ready." It also gets things underway nicely here, but as love song after gentle love song rolls by, all meticulously arranged, recorded, and sung with perfectly nuanced emotional presence, A Ship Called Love begins to drift from shore in its own studied smoothness. Not that there aren't high points, like the autobiographical "Troubadour," a fine duet with Ruthie Foster that arrives at about midpoint in the set, and the engaging, gentle reggae lilt of "Turning World," but by the time Bibb gets around to actually playing a blues, the micro-analytic "More o' That," it seems downright radical after so much gentle elegance. The closer, "Praise 'n' Thanksgiving," flirts with folk-gospel, and is so grateful and reverent that it is impossible to resist, even as one wishes that a little of that reverence had been replaced with pure, wild joy. That, in the end, is what this album needs to make it more than a pleasant rumination on the sea of love. It needs a touch of wildness to temper the calm surface of these songs, because love, more so than all the other emotions, benefits from occasional changes in wind direction.


Born: 16 August 1951 in New York, NY

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Like Josh White, Jr. -- son of folksinger Josh White -- singer, songwriter, and guitarist Eric Bibb was raised in the folk tradition, the son of folksinger Leon Bibb. Bibb's uncle was the world-famous jazz pianist and composer John Lewis, part of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Bibb was raised in a music-filled household, and family friends in the '50s and '60s included Pete Seeger, Odetta, Bob Dylan, and the late Paul Robeson, who was named Eric's godfather. Bibb got his first steel guitar at age seven,...
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A Ship Called Love, Eric Bibb
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