Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 March, 2010, 12:00am

Along with Keb' Mo', Eric Bibb represents the modern craftsman-like approach to the Mississippi Delta blues. Both play the music with soul, but with the guitars properly in tune and with most of the other rough edges generally associated with the music knocked off.

They are, as a result, not favourites of hardline purists, but Bibb's latest album, Booker's Guitar, on Telarc, has plenty to offer even them, and is currently occupying the No1 position on the US Sound Scan Blues Chart.

His last CD, Get Onboard, was a band effort with a guest spot by Bonnie Raitt. This time the songs have been stripped back to just Bibb's voice and guitar with only some occasional - and effective - harmonica from Grant Dermody.

The inspiration for the album was the opportunity Bibb had to play a guitar that had belonged to Mississippi bluesman Booker (often wrongly spelled Bukka) White. It set Bibb thinking about the history of the blues, and he came up with a number of thematically linked songs about life on the Delta. As he sings on the title track, 'Booker's guitar's got a story to tell of hard-earned hope and unshed tears'.

Other Bibb originals on the album include Flood Water - about the Mississippi flood of 1926-27, but with an obvious post-Katrina resonance - and Tell Riley, a song about B.B. King's early days as a Delta blues musician. King was given his first guitar by White, his cousin.

Walkin' Blues Again, Sunrise Blues and New Home are also echoes of a bygone era on the Mississippi Delta, and Bibb covers Blind Willie Johnson's Nobody's Fault But Mine and the traditional tune Wayfaring Stranger.

Bibb's blues are not imbued with the same intense religious angst as Johnson's, but he does believe in covering both spiritual and secular turf.

Although the title track is about the blues, it is more of a calypso, and Bibb acknowledges the influence of an artist who saw the connection between those forms long ago, Taj Mahal, on the closing cut, A - Z Blues.

This is a fine collection that should appeal to blues and world music fans. Appearing on Wednesday at 8pm at Grappa's Cellar are the Dixie Katz, a small group drawn from the line-up of the Stray Katz Big Band, performing a 'trad' or 'Dixieland' repertoire. They have a regular residency on the third Wednesday of every month and there is no cover charge.

The Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra make their regular appearance this week. They play the last Saturday of each month at the Fringe Club, starting at 10.30pm. Admission is HK$125 in advance or HK$155 on the day, including one standard drink.

Next month the great jazz guitarist Martin Taylor makes his first appearance in Hong Kong since the mid-1990s. Dr Martin Taylor MBE, as he is now billed, is a lot more famous than he was back then, but still one of the most compelling solo guitarists in the world in any musical style.

He plays the Drama Theatre of the Academy for Performing Arts at 8pm on April 8 and 9. Tickets at HK$420, HK$300 and HK$150 from HK Ticketing and Tom Lee Outlets,, Tel: 31288 288. Proceeds go to the Chi Heng Foundation, an Aids charity on the mainland.