Painting Signs, by Eric Bibb
Suggested by Dreena Jane
Back in my adolescence, I dallied with The Blues.
Not in any terminal way, of course. There was still Metal coursing through my veins. I merely flirted with the genre, as I was drawn to its low-down, lonesome aesthetic and rich, storied history. I’d read tales about exotic and mostly long-dead Bluesmen, who drank bourbon, played their geet-ahs and sang mournful songs. They’re just like me, I’d opine, taking a slug of Dandelion and Burdock, and ignoring all the available evidence. They know pain too.
To continue my Blues Education, I subscribed to the Blues Collection series of part-work magazines. Each weekly issue spotlighted a Bluesman – invariably a Bluesman – in a thin magazine that chronicled his life and music. The magazine came with a cassette tape of said Bluesman’s seminal hits. I’d read, I’d listen, I’d learn.
What I learned was that I hated most of the early Blues recordings. Not for their content, but for the terrible sound quality. Much like the Death Grown, I just couldn’t get past the whine and crackle. Didn’t they know about Dolby in 1920’s America, for christ’s sake?!
So I shuffled by short-lived Blues obsession under the carpet. I enjoyed the sounds of more modern Bluesmen, but they were embarrassingly still alive. Such surface attraction felt cheap and dishonest, like claiming the world’s best guitarist is Chris Rea.
Eric Bibb is a pure Bluesman that is still very much alive. Over a five-decade career, he’s churned out twenty-two studio albums and many more collaborations. I’d never heard of him before today… I assume he was in issue 50 of the Blues Collection, long after I stopped wasting my £5.99 a week on tapes that went unplayed.
Painting Signs is Bibb’s eighth album, and kicks off with the wistful Kokomo. It’s a song about lost friendship and Blues fellowship, delivered over a swinging drum sound and some low-key guitar. Bibb’s voice is pure Blues, full of expression and empathy, a storytelling masterclass. The second track is a delightful Blues-picked cover version of the Pat Boone / Johnny Cash classic tale of murder and remorse. It’s the king of song that legitimately makes me want to re-start my own guitar training. I’d never do it, as it’s too damn hard and I’m too damn old. The third song, Hope in a Hopeless World, plies organ and female backing singers in a slice of good-natured and upbeat joy. The fourth, I Heard the Angels Singing, is my standout song, a simple Blues story from a man and a guitar that swells into a full band and a brassy finish.
Painting Signs has a plethora of polished and emotive Blues songs, any of which could be singled out for high praise. It’s reminiscent of Keb’ Mo’ at one end, and Buddy Guy at the other. I genuinely adored every minute, and I’m delighted there’s another twenty-one albums from the same delicious source. Painting Signs gets an easy 8/10.