Eric Bibb figured twice in this celebration of the blues, the first time an opening set that confirmed him as the leading folk-blues singer-guitarist of the age and the second when his song Don't Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down earned equal status between two classics, Catfish Blues and Nina Simone's C-Line Woman, as the Heritage Blues Orchestra presented their all-encompassing take on the music's history.
With his warm, beautifully modulated singing, his variously relaxed and urgently grooving but always expert guitar picking and his natural approachability, Bibb gave something of a Story of the Blues – acoustic department – recitation. From Stagolee, that oldest of blues tales detailing a killing over a $5 dollar hat, to his own gently sophisticated Connected, he was the most amenable of guides, a genuine heir to the music's pioneers.
He has nine co-heirs in HBO, whose field holler to big city jazz fanfare set was refined and rumbustious, merging Bill Sims's classically slanted piano improvisations with father and daughter pat-a-cake percussion, Chaney Sims's straight from the church, soul-fired gospel singing with frontline partner Junior Mack's gutbucket slide guitar and hurting vocals, and superb harmonica invention with perfectly nuanced horn arrangements.
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The horns may have been underused but understatement is one of the orchestra's key features alongside a deep feeling for, and innate understanding of, the music. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in drummer Kenny "Beady Eyes" Smith, working with rhythmic harmonica figures, rolling tuba lines and bottom-end guitar accents, and quietly powering everything along with precision-tooled shuffles and covetable grooviness.