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Posted: January 29, 2010

Eric Bibb and the blue guitar

Plus more from the Bowie vaults

Mike Cote

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ERIC BIBB Booker's Guitar (Telarc)

The story about how acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb took temporary possession of Booker "Bukka" White's guitar certainly makes for an inspiring tale. If you've seen The Red Violin, you can imagine the connections between musicians living and dead from the shared experience of playing the same instrument - especially when you know who held that instrument in their hands before you did.

One of Bibb's fans in the UK alerted him about White's circa-1934 National Guitar and said he thought Bibb should have the opportunity to play the heavy steel-bodied instrument. Years later, Bibb reconnected him after penning the song "Booker's Guitar" - a song he knew, of course, that he would have to record with the instrument White's cousin B.B. King reportedly called the "Holy Relic."

Bibb opens the album with the title track, a song he delivers with a mix of spoken-word and sung lines that tells the tale of the traveling musician and how he expressed himself with the resonator guitar. "Booker's guitar rings like a bell. It's going to keep on ringing for a thousand years," Bibb sings in his rich baritone, coaxing bright tones from the guitar to match that line.

That Bibb found his Delta muse through White's guitar underscores this powerful, intimate album composed primarily of original songs. It's a quiet, soulful disc that closely resembles Bibb's acoustic solo performances: just voice, guitar and harmonica. On Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault Like Mine," it's just Bibb singing and clapping over a lone harmonica played Grant Dermody (the only other musician on the disc.)

Bibb also turns in some powerful songs on this disc, including "With My Maker I Am One," a catalog saints and sinners who eventually will all travel the same road, from the "ghetto brother about to lose his lease" to the "landlord cutting off the heat." "A Good Woman" and "Rocking Chair" take love and romance to its deepest meaning. "Turning Pages" salutes Bibb's favorite authors, which include Walter Mosley (author of the bluesman's tale "RL's Dream" and the Easy Rawlins mysteries.)

"Tell Riley" is a story that has a little something to do with a guy who later became known as "King," as in B.B. King.

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DAVID BOWIE A Reality Tour (ISO/Columbia)
DAVID BOWIE Space Oddity: 40th Anniversary Special Edition (Virgin)

If you were fortunate enough to catch David Bowie at Denver's Fillmore Auditorium in 2004, you saw a version of the stunning show captured on A Reality Tour, a two-CD set recorded the year before in Dublin. Bowie was on a creative high at the time, having just recorded back-to-back critical and commercial successes with Heathen and Reality (And he hasn't been heard from much since.)

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Seven years later, the "new" songs remain strong entries in Bowie's canon, as live versions of rockers "New Killer Star" and "Afraid" and cabaret pop "Bring Me the Disco King" illustrate. Over a series of several '90s albums, Bowie had regained his street cred, and he could follow a '70s classic like "Life on Mars" with the techno-fueled "Battle for Britain (The Letter)" from 1997's Earthling without losing the crowd's attention. He even reclaimed "Loving the Alien," performing a new stripped-down arrangement that overshadows the tepid mid-'80s original. This set adds three songs not included on the DVD released a few years ago, including the Iggy Pop co-penned hit "China Girl."

The double-disc edition of Space Oddity is aimed at the hard-core fan. Who else would want a version of the title track sung in Italian? The 15 odds and ends included on disc two, eight previously unreleased, also feature an early unreleased 1969 demo of "Space Oddity" - the song that would become Bowie's first hit - as well as B-sides, singles and a few live tracks recorded for the BBC ("Let Me Sleep Beside You," "Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed" and "Janine" previously appeared on the Bowie at the Beeb collection.)

Like the official album itself - a smattering of styles that show Bowie struggling to find his musical identity - these recordings offer a glimpse of the greatness Bowie would achieve in just a few short years when a character named Ziggy Stardust emerged. But that's another story.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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