From the August 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PAT MORAN
With the inviting sentiment, “walking side by side, hand in hand,” Eric Bibb kicks off The Happiest Man in the World, and it’s the key to why his latest collection works so well. With his no-frills virtuosity, Bibb could easily dominate any gathering -— he’s joined here by Finnish acoustic combo North Country Far and legendary bassist Danny Thompson (Pentangle, John Martyn). Instead Bibb lifts and draws inspiration from his partners, and this set sizzles with the energy of sympathetic players connecting in the same room.
The tunes, predominantly originals by Bibb—an American who moved to Europe in 1970 and lives in Helsinki, Finland—draw from the early 20th-century proto-blues and folk of itinerant songsters, but also crackle with contemporary vigor.
The rambling country blues, “Toolin’ Down the Road,” is goosed along by Bibb’s sinuous acoustic playing, wrapping delicate tendrils around Petri Hakala’s fanning mandolin. The swaying and bucolic “On the Porch” builds on the percussive metronome of Bibb’s guitar as it celebrates the wordless communication shared by kindred souls.
Bibb balances his amiable canter with the populist unease that braids through roots music. Represented by the rattlesnake scrape of guitar strings, avaricious bankers foreclose on a family farm in “Tossing and Turning,” and a cover of “You Really Got Me” transforms the Kinks’ rave-up into forlorn and aching midnight jazz.
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Yet even the dourest tunes celebrate common humanity. Direct and heartfelt, The Happiest Man in the World welcomes all with the warmth and strength of a proffered hand.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.