Eric Bibb, son of folk giant Leon Bibb, has been listening to Lead Belly’s music since childhood. Accompanied by French harmonica player JJ Milteau on Lead Belly’s Gold, he delivers an affecting and imaginative tribute to the folk/blues legend, offering live and studio versions of classics written by or associated with Lead Belly, such as “Midnight Special,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Goodnight, Irene,” “Rock Island Line,” and “Bourgeois Blues.”
In addition to Lead Belly songs, the set includes three numbers inspired by him, all written in the first person and from his perspective: “When I Get to Dallas,” by Bibb and Milteau, conjures up Lead Belly’s early days in Texas; “Chauffeur Blues,” by Bibb, imagines what the blues great might have said from the afterlife to folklorist John Lomax, the man who discovered him; and Bibb’s “Swimmin’ in a River of Songs,” which closes the album, tells Lead Belly’s life story.
Neophytes should head first for the master’s voice, via Smithsonian Folkways’ terrific three-disc Lead Belly Legacy collection. But if you’re already acquainted with that set, consider making this your next stop. Bibb and Milteau put their own spin on the music while conveying the power and dignity that imbue the original recordings.