Brothers in Bamako
Habib Koite & Eric Bibb
I've come to learn that anything Stony Plain Records is willing to put their name on is going to be good. A few weeks ago I reviewed another Eric Bibb record released from the Edmonton label and recently got my hands on another. This time Bibb teamed up with West African musician Habib Koite to produce an album whose style spans the Atlantic.
Both musicians wrote and composed many of the songs on the record, some separate and some traditionals, but most others were collaboration. On these collaborated tracks the infusion of styles is most relevant. Both come from rich cultures with their roots in African music, but what permeates from the recording is not what I would have expected. The songs are gentle with a heavy folk and blues influence. The lyrics, written and sung in both English and French, describe the hardships on both sides of the world with a tangible potency; much like Bibb's previous release. Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" is also included on this record, as "it deserves to be sung above the Atlantic, shared by an African and an African-American what no wind can separate." I found this line in the liner notes to be especially poignant.
Both men strum and sing beautifully, and often in harmony. Many traditional percussion and stringed instruments are used in a very contemporary way, along with Bibbs guitar style that I've grown to love. The music isn't too "this", or too "that", I found the mixture to be like a delicious blended Scotch whiskey. It had just enough of every element; everything was as it ought to be.
Brothers in Bamako is obviously about more than just creating music. It's about the reconnection of culture and history, and creating something that spreads across borders, nations, and economic ideals. Bibb and Koite accomplish this goal, and offer up a great album at the same time.
First Came Memphis Minnie: A Loving Tribute
Maria Muldaur; Various Artists
First, I must admit that I've never heard of Memphis Minnie. From my estimation, she was a big name in the early days of blues and rightfully deserves the accolades of respect. This collection of her soulful originals is reiterated in a traditional style by an assortment of female blues stars, including Rory Block, Bonnie Raitt, and Koko Taylor. The majority of the tribute is comprised of Maria Muldaur belting out haunting renditions.
It's a little tough to review an album with such variance, each artist offering their own take on such a definitive character; like comparing the different Bond agents. I'll deconstruct it into lyrics and music. There wasn't a vocal performance that I didn't love. Luckily I could keep track of who sang what with help from the liner notes. Muldaur's hoarse voice suited her styling and the songs she sang. Rory Block played and sang on her tracks with that identifiable loose strut. Phoebe Snow blew her only track, "In My Girlish Days", clear off the album with a slick soulful howl. Everything was right, straightforward, and easy.
The guitar playing was so delicious I couldn't help but get swept away in it. Many hands shared their talent here, all with such a superb knowledge to the craft. I mean, this is what they do as blues players, but still, I was just in my own world for the entire duration. The music here is a wide mixture of styles, tasty turn arounds, layered with only a few backing tracks as to not detract from tradition.
Completely contented by the swinging strings, the package was complete in my mind. Great songs, great presentation, and a deep respect for the craft laid out by Memphis Minnie. First Came has enjoyed many spins this week in my workshop and helps the time pleasantly float on by.