Reissued February 2014 on Manhaton Records (HATMAN 2032)
It’s back. The debut that dazzled the blues scene. The songs that became the soundtrack to our lives. The thrilling opening gambit that turned Eric Bibb from nonentity to superstar. Of all the statistics surrounding 1997’s Me To You – an album that took in 11 studios and 44 different musicians – the most staggering is surely that this classic record has been out of print for 12 years.
Until now. In February 2014, Manhaton Records is raising this sunken treasure from oblivion, restoring the original 14 tracks to CD, alongside fresh sleevenotes from the legendary producer who helmed them, Mike Vernon. “Me To You must rate as one of Eric’s best albums,” writes Mike. “If this is your first time with it, enjoy. If you’ve heard it before – enjoy again.”
Born in New York City on August 16th, 1951, Eric Bibb was no wide-eyed ingénue by the time of Me To You. As the son of professional musicians, he received his first acoustic guitar aged seven (with family friend Bob Dylan giving him the advice to “keep it simple”), and travelled across Europe in the early-’70s immersing himself in the blues. By 1996, Eric had released two live acoustic albums, but it was his set at that year’s London Blues Festival that led to his studio debut. In the crowd, Mike Vernon and Alan Robinson – co-founders of the Code Blue label – recognised rare talent and duly chased Eric’s signature. “He was truly a breath of fresh air,” remembers Mike.
With Eric readily signing to Code Blue, recording for Me To You began in January 1997. Inspired, the American newcomer hit the sessions like a train, his pockets bulging with songs that he felt “show my passion for blending related styles that evolved from my folk roots”.
Here was a songwriter who surprised at every turn, and escaped any pigeonhole you tried to place him in. He could move seamlessly from the tender balladry of You’re The One to the irrepressible funk of Between A Woman And A Man, or slip between the clipped groove of Talk To Me and the suitably mellow Keep My Cool. “Eric showed us he was a prolific writer of truly great original songs,” remembers Mike. “We were spoilt for choice.”
Like all the best albums, Me To You didn’t come easy. Having waited so long for his industry break, the sessions found Eric tirelessly chasing the sound in his head, with Mike remembering a “labour of love” that moved between studios in London, Stockholm, Portsmouth, Ripley, New York, Chicago and San Francisco (before the final mix-down in Chipping Norton). “Eric was constantly driven,” explains the producer. “He seemed possessed to fulfil a dream and would not let go until this project was complete.”
Me To You was undoubtedly Eric’s baby, but the bandleader had assembled a cast of thousands to help deliver it. Over long years in the music industry, he had forged countless friendships, and on this first studio album, there was a palpable sense of him both calling in favours and repaying them. Most notable amongst the guests were Taj Mahal and Pops Staples, lending their unmistakeable vocals to Sing Your Song and Something Much Greater, respectively. A scan of the album credits reveals the pair were in good company, however, with these 14 tracks taking in a starburst of special guests. “Eric was most anxious to ensure that he returned all those favours he had drawn upon in the preceding years,” says Mike. “By my reckoning, we used 44 different musicians in the making of this CD…”
Seventeen years after Me To You was released as Code Blue’s final album, Eric Bibb still has the spark in his songwriting and the lead in his pencil. There have been other great albums, from 1999’s Home To Me to 2013’s Jericho Road. And yet, there remains something special about his debut. This is the sound of a world-class talent with its wings unclipped for the first time, revelling in the freedom of the studio and within touching distance of the big-time. As the bandleader wrote upon the album’s original release in 1997: “It was a dream come true. It was worth the wait…”