Months after the Grammy-nominated artist Eric Bibb released his latest studio album Ridin’ in March 2023, the project is continuing to garner attention from powerful voices within the music industry. Most recently, the album added another Grammy nomination to Bibb’s collection, with Ridin’ now up for the Best Traditional Blues Album award when the 2024 Grammys take place in February.
Ridin’ is in many ways a celebration of traditional blues styles and sounds. It comes on the heels of Bibb’s 2021 album Dear America, a project that Bibb described at the time of its release as a “love letter” to the U.S. at a time of national strife. Ridin’ continues grappling with the burden America carries amid its many past and ongoing flaws, with Bibb describing the project late last year as a concept album that focuses on “the ongoing task of understanding systemic racism and purging it from our world.”
The 15-track collection features two instrumental interludes—“Onwards” and album closer “Church Bells”—and kicks off with “Family,” the first single released from Ridin’. The album’s namesake comes from a track that creates the strong sensation of taking a ride on a train. Its rhythm chugs along just beneath Bibb’s vocals as he sings of the “freedom train” and urges passengers, “Don’t miss this chance / To face and understand the past / ‘Cause the truth will set you free, my friend.” Along the way, Bibb references the killings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Emmett Till as he describes riding through the Southern U.S. It’s a powerful song lyrically and musically, and certainly one of the album’s best.
Two tracks that immediately follow “Ridin’,” “Blues Funky Like Dat” and “The Ballad of John Howard Griffin,” are also album standouts. “Blues Funky Like Dat” is a jaunty tune that leans into its funky rhythm with assistance from fellow bluesmen Taj Mahal and Jontavious Willis. “The Ballad of John Howard Griffin,” which features guitarist Russell Malone, meanwhile embraces the talking blues style as Bibb sings of the white man of the same name who took on the identity of a Black man during the late 1950s in an attempt to better understand racial inequality in the American South.
A handful of other guests contributed to Ridin’. Malone also appears on “Hold the Line,” a soft and contemplative track about trying to fight hatred with love. Guitarist Amar Sundy sits in on “I Got My Own,” a song that’s musically similar to the railroad rhythm of “Ridin’” and that focuses lyrically on chasing dreams and finding success. Harrison Kennedy and Habib Koité later guest on “Call Me By My Name” and “People You Love,” respectively, and Bibb gets assistance from his Eric Bibb String Band in a rendition of “Sinner Man” from his 2012 album Deeper in the Well, with this live version recorded at the Wheatland Festival.
Ridin’ is a powerful album from the opening bars of “Family” through the fading notes of “Church Bells” as Bibb’s second instrumental interlude winds the album to an end. It’ll be exciting to see how Ridin’ performs at the Grammys a couple of months from now—it’s clearly a strong contender.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Blues Funky Like Dat
– The Ballad of John Howard Griffin
– I Got My Own
The Big Hit
Buy the album: Amazon