Eric Bibb, Rory Block
& Maria Muldaur,
Sisters & Brothers
(Telarc, 2004)

What do get when you place three accomplished blues artists inside a comfortable recording space, slowly combine their individual talents, add three seasoned band members and let simmer? You've got the recipe for the new release, Sisters & Brothers featuring, Eric Bibb, Rory Block and Maria Muldaur.

The album is a celebration of their musical journey and the bond shared as blues musicians. Their initial steps began in the 1960s, firmly rooted in folk music at the peak of its popularity. During that time, all three became captivated by the sound of acoustic country blues. Their attraction continued to grow, feeling deeply connected to the music beyond just simple fascination. Calling it home, each artist built a musical foundation in traditional country blues, selecting different areas within the genre to reside that reflected their individual styles. After many years of hard work and dedication Bibb, Block and Muldaur enjoy successful solo careers, representing their distinct segments of the blues.

Sisters & Brothers is a dream come true, reuniting three talented performers who happen to be old friends. Bringing their own unique ingredients to the table, they created a delicious banquet of blues entrees. There are 13 tasty tracks, covering a variety of styles to satisfy any appetite. This threesome cooked some savory blues selections, from country and gospel, to folk and jazz for a full serving of genuine emotion and memorable performances.

Albums with an assortment of styles from a specific genre as diverse as the blues may sound chopped or tossed together. You won't find anything thrown together on this new release, which is a perfect example of how an album, covering different styles within a specific genre, is supposed to sound. Each track blends smoothly in a natural progression, the thoughtful grouping of certain styles giving the CD a cohesive transition throughout -- a true testament to the artists, the band and especially the producer Randy Labbe.

Sisters & Brothers has a spiritual theme, but it certainly doesn't preach. Instead, you'll find a positive, uplifting tone that touches the human spirit. It delivers a clear and simple message of unity and brotherhood, the importance of giving and being there for one another. In a world of uncertainty and fear, the message here is needed now more than ever. The opening track, is an a cappella version of the gospel standard, "Rock Daniel." It's a call and response tune with Block singing lead, Bibb and Muldaur providing steady vocal support. Next, Bibb takes the lead on the shuffle tune, "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down." His smooth and soulful R&B style really shines, the emotion level in his voice slowly rising on every verse. Muldaur jumps in for a verse with her sassy vibrato, then returns with Block singing chorus. Chris Burns tears up the ivories with great riffs and an excellent solo.

"Get Up Get Ready" finds Muldaur at her best on this swing tune. She drives home the message with her exuberant, sultry vocals, Block adding some jazzy guitar riffs. Michael "Mudcat" Ward on upright bass and Per Hanson on drums stay front and center as Muldaur leads the way. You can't help but sing along.

The album's finest duets come from Block and Muldaur; their first is the Withers classic, "Lean On Me." Block delivers a strong, soulful lead as Muldaur joins in with warm, soaring harmonies. Their duet version of this R&B favorite, adds more depth and harmony without veering too far from the original. Their second duet is on a Block original, "Travlin' Woman Blues." Both women turn up the heat, each bouncing off the other with a healthy dose of steamy, sultry vocals. Burns' honky-tonk piano keeps the fire burning, tickling the ivories with a sizzling solo. This is one of the album's best tracks, as is "Gotta Serve Somebody." Bibb gives this Dylan spiritual a fantastic ride. His smooth-as-silk voice sounds a bit scratchy, even gritty at times when placing emphasis within a verse. Bibbs' slow and soulful variation to this spiritual, adds an authoritative aspect to the original. Block and Muldaur's background vocals sound like a Sunday morning choir as they echo the chorus. Bibb also exercises his wide vocal range with deliberate emotion. This interpretation is powerful, he'll get your attention without letting go till the very last note. The title track, "Sisters & Brothers," is an uplifting gospel tune. Each voice wraps around the other in waves of warmth and comfort. It's really a shame, being the only track where they sing together as a trio.

Sisters & Brothers is a dynamic collection of blues. There isn't a bad track to be found, each one taking you in a new direction. This threesome gives the very best, never once overshadowing someone else. Each artist's expressive originality truly complements the others, highlighting their strengths and creativity. The trio opens the door to a different side of the blues -- the hopeful, uplifting, inspiring side. You'll be pleasantly surprised just how infectious this recording becomes, as you play it again and again. It's a genuine "feel good" album with lots of toe-tappin' energy. I highly recommend you dive right into this one.

- Rambles
written by Pamela L. Dow
published 19 June 2004

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