Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
“The blues is really about life, about all that we experience,” Eric Bibb told the crowd at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, “except matrimonial bliss.” Then he proceeded to correct that thematic omission with his self-described “bluesy love song,” “Saucer ‘n’ Cup.”
Acoustic bluesman Bibb and his co-star for the evening, Texas blues singer Ruthie Foster, certainly weren’t afraid to step outside the normal parameters of the blues. And they made a perfect match for their co-headlining concert. Both of them emphasize the positive, life-affirming aspects of the blues rather than the low-down, my-woman’s-been-cheating-on-me-so-I’m-gonna-get-a-shotgun-and-drink-some-whiskey end of the spectrum.
They both kicked off their respective hour-long sets with songs about home. Foster sang “I believe my soul’s found a happy home” in her opening “Runaway Soul,” while Bibb got busy “Building a New Home.” They both brought a strong element of gospel music to their brand of the blues – Foster with her roof-raising closer “Travelin’ Shoes” and Bibb with his hypnotic rendition of the spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger.” They both paid tribute to the bluesmen and women who paved the way for them – Foster with Mississippi John Hurt’s “Richland Woman Blues,” and Bibb with the Reverend Gary Davis’ “I Heard the Angels Singing.” And they launched into their joint encore set with Lightning Hopkins’ spiritual “Needed Time,” too. Yes, Foster and Bibb made for an ideal pairing…
Celebrating her 50th birthday, the Austin-based Foster was up first. And in a talkative mood, she captivated the crowd before she sang her first notes. Accompanied only by drummer-percussionist Samantha Banks (who also tuned in a mighty serious spoons solo during the Hurt tune), Foster’s blues were slathered with deep soul, resonating with echoes of Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette, as she dished out solid originals (“Aim for the Heart” and the heart-broken “Harder Than the Fall”), a powerful a cappella tune (“The Titanic”) and an eclectic but well-chosen selection of covers (ranging from U2’s “One” to Patty Griffin’s “When It Don’t Come Easy” to a complete re-invention of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” that transformed it into a love ballad.
The more folk-oriented Bibb also gave an excellent performance, but he never quite reached the emotional heights or intensity of Foster. Accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Michael Jerome Brown (on slide and 12-string guitars, harmonica and fiddle), the son of ’60s folk staple Leon Bibb played songs that he learned first-hand from his folk revival elders, including Odetta and Bob Gibson. He sang about putting your life together after a bad patch (“Shingle by Shingle”) and searching for a better economic situation (“Turner Station”).
At the end of the evening all four musicians gathered on stage for a few encores, and if you hadn’t already received the message loud and clear that the blues can be a force for good, they spelled it out plain and simple with “Thanks for the Joy” and “Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down.” If you had the blues walking into The Egg, you can bet that Foster and Bibb chased ’em away by the time you left the theater.
RUTHIE FOSTER SET LIST
Richland Woman Blues (Mississippi John Hurt)
Small Town Blues
When It Don’t Come Easy (Patty Griffin)
Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)
Aim for the Heart
Harder Than the Fall
Welcome Home > One (U2)
ERIC BIBB SET LIST
Shingle by Shingle
Saucer ‘n’ Cup
On My Way to Bamako
No More Can on the Brazos
Goin’ Down Slow
If Memphis Don’t Kill Me (Michael Jerome Brown solo)
I Heard the Angels Singing (Rev. Gary Davis)
Needed Time (Lightnin’ Hopkins) (with Ruthie Foster, Samantha Banks)
Thanks for the Joy (with Ruthie Foster, Samantha Banks)
Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down (with Ruthie Foster, Samantha Banks)