Eric Bibb

Old Town Artisans, Saturday, March 22

Judging from Eric Bibb's two-hour-plus gig last weekend at Old Town Artisans, his acoustic blues music is all about encouraging healing and paying tribute to his musical heroes.

For most of the intimate concert--before a standing-room-only crowd of about 175--Bibb sat under the massive rosebush in the downtown courtyard, alternating among three acoustic guitars. The smell of jasmine was in the air, and the sound of passing freight trains punctuated Bibb's performance at poetic intervals.

Born and raised in Queens, N.Y., Bibb, 56, is the son of New York City-based folk singer Leon Bibb, and he spent his childhood in the presence of legendary icons such as Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger, Odetta and Bob Dylan.

With a humorous, gentle presence, Bibb (who looked about 20 years younger than his age) played the blues in the Delta, St. Louis and Piedmont styles, injecting into his material generous doses of country, folk and gospel. The result was rich and heartfelt, and often bouncy and positive, in contrast to prevailing prejudices about the blues being depressing.

Among his best original tunes were "Shingle by Shingle," about rebuilding a life in the face of disappointment; "Saucer 'n' Cup," an elegant ode to romantic partnership; the existential musings of "Destiny Blues," on which he wondered why he's here; and the tender "For You," a love song that could be interpreted as being directed at another person or at a deity, and which Bibb played almost as if it were a lullaby.

He mentioned many of his musical inspirations in song, mentioning Elizabeth Cotten, the Rev. Gary Davis, Son House and Mississippi John Hurt in his "Still Livin' On," which, despite its honorable intentions, seemed a little simplistic. He did a better job of paying homage to his predecessors by covering tunes by Hurt, Van Ronk, Davis, Guy Clark and St. Louis Jimmy Oden, and by performing a moving version of the spiritual "Keep Your Hands on the Plow."

Bibb's gig, his first in Tucson since 2001, kicked off the 11th annual Courtyard Concert Series. Presented by Jonathan Holden's Rhythm and Roots, the series will continue with nine more events in the charming garden at Old Town Artisans, including concerts by Slaid Cleaves (April 3), Peter Rowan (May 10), Eliza Gilkyson (May 31) and Roy Book Binder (June 14).