Eric Bibb is an American blues singer/songwriter who is proficient on both the guitar and banjo. Habib Koite is also a singer/songwriter and guitarist but he is from West Africa and his rhythms and styles reflect that continent. They have now combined their talents to create a unique blend of blues, world music, and even a little gospel that fuses their very different origins and styles.
They wisely kept it simple on Brothers in Bamako. The only other constant in addition to their vocals and instruments is percussionist Mamadou Kone. They added background vocals to one track and a pedal steel guitar to another, but that’s it.
They also wrote singularly or in tandem, 11 of the 13 tracks. The two covers, which close the album, serve as bookends for their approach. The old blues song, “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” is about as close as they come to a traditional sound. On the other hand, their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” takes the song to places it has rarely, if ever, traveled. Bibb’s vocal, Koite’s rhythms, and the blending of Olli Haavisto’s pedal steel into the mix creates an intriguing and memorable performance.
One other interesting and poignant track, “On My Way to Bamako,” sees Bibb sharing his feelings about his first visit to Mali. Koite returns the favor with his “L.A.” Also, “We Don’t Care” has some bite as they tackle the mining problems of West Africa.
Bibb and Koite have united to forge a fusion of not only two distinct musical styles and forms but of two cultures as well. Brothers in Bamako may not appeal to everyone but if you are in the mood for something a little different and want to take a chance, then this is an album for you.
Article first published as Music Review: Eric Bibb & Habib Koite – Brothers In Bamako on Blogcritics.