Paul Bibbins – The Last Perfect Performance – Album Review
No better way than to help our neighbors down south celebrate their holiday today than by bringing you a man willing to grab an axe & cover the ol’ “Star Spangled Banner” for ya right? Meet Paul Bibbins y’all – and happy 4th of July to all of you over in the USA, from our spot here in the nation’s capital of Canada.
I’m looking at this artwork correctly, yes? Paul’s a right-handed man, rockin’ with a lefty guitar, upside down – is that right? While it could be a clever photo shoot…the guitar-face that comes along with one of the main pictures you’ll find with this record posted online will certainly have you believing that this is indeed the case. And I’m all about it…I’m here for it in fact – I love innovative players like this dude.
There’s no doubt that even Paul himself would likely proudly champion the influence of Hendrix on his own music – you can hear this celebrated through the way he plays his guitar, and even more clearly through his cover of Jimi’s “Voodoo Child” at the very end of this twenty-seven song set. That’s right – twenty seven cuts. The full-length name of this album is actually The Last Perfect Performance (…1 album, 27 songs) – I know that I can agree on what’s detailed in the brackets for sure, the rest of that title here, might be more open for interpretation to say the least. I’ve been on record countless times here on our pages yelling about how literally insane it is to think there’s gonna be perfection to be found in more than ten songs total…and the risk goes up exponentially from there as the track listing keeps counting. Ask the dude with the eighty-three song set I’ve been reviewing here over the past several weeks how that’s been workin’ out for him so far; the odds are inevitably stacked against ya in lengthy albums no matter who you are, how good you are, or how bulletproof the material may even appear to be. That being said – the definition of ‘perfect’ can actually take on multiple meanings – again, just ask anyone out there that loves Hendrix and they’ll tell ya that’s the truth. Being ‘perfect’ doesn’t always mean stickin’ it note for note on a technical or even melodic level – sometimes being ‘perfect’ is much more about embracing the moment for everything it has to offer, and leaving nothing on the table when it comes time to record or perform. I can think of countless imperfect bands & artists that have thrived in perfection at the right moment in time…it’s about feeling the music you make – that’s real perfection.
Paul gets all that…I don’t need to explain it to this guy. He’s been cooped up in the IT department grindin’ out the 9-5 his entire life according to his story online – so when it comes time to let the good times roll, he’s more than ready to crank up his amplifiers and jam on his guitars until that next morning comes to claim him again. You listen to the man fire it up as the record begins with “Oh Woman, Sweet Woman” and the intensity of the solo you’ll find and try to convince me that Bibbins isn’t as into it as an artist can be – that’s the sound of perfection right there y’all, pay attention. He’s thriving right from the drop and embracing this moment in time, for better or worse, and just letting the music rip; Paul’s a genuinely expressive artist with a serious gift for grabbing your attention through the wild way he plays.
While “Insight (Part 2)” will kind of put the brakes on by comparison to what you’ll hear in the set-list to follow, it also reveals a lot of the depth that will show up in the range of ideas & songs in this lineup as well. Lyrically, it’s also one of the stronger cuts on the record as well; if you read Paul’s whole story online, you’ll know that words are somewhat the last in the list of his priorities, but in this one track alone, he proves to be better at it than perhaps he gives himself credit for. Ultimately, on the first couple spins, you realize “Insight (Part 2)” is kind of a risk in the energy is presents so early on in the lineup – Paul’s put in a gradual build to The Last Perfect Performance rather than blasting off all the fireworks in his bag at once. “And all that I can think of is what if, what was, will be” to quote the man direct – “Insight (Part 2)” is a solid & meaty tune, but it’s tougher to say if it generates the excitement you wanna hear at the outset of a record, or especially in comparisons to tunes you’ll find later on.
As you warm up to the Hendrix-esque vibes of Paul’s own style & sound, you’ll either be onboard or you won’t be, as is the case with just about everyone out there, but you’ll likely know for sure around track three staring at twenty-four more still to come. “Dreamin’ Is Flyin’” has that true to the era sound to it, which may or may not have some of you out there desiring more clarity perhaps, but for others, it’s gonna hit the mark spot-on and revive a lot of what they love that’s sorely absent & missing in today’s world. There’s an organic REALNESS in the music Paul makes that no one can deny – and the fearlessness of which he plays sounds truly like a man with nothing to lose; he’s chillin’ in a cubicle all day long doin’ the IT tech-support thang – so why wouldn’t he go all out when it comes time to plug IN? That’s by far one of the best things about Bibbins overall…he DOES…and if that comes out laden in fuzzy distortion as a result of him being fully present in the moment and locked right into the groove, so be it. Solid Blues/Rock combo though…just enough of the ol’ hint of the psych 60s/70s spirit in there too, and guaranteed to provide real throwback sound to be enjoyed right in the here & now for all those out there clamoring for music that feels like you’re sitting right there in the front row of a show, taking it in. That being said, between the weight of “Insight (Part 2)” and the production style of songs like “Dreamin’ Is Flyin’” and “Come And Go Babe” right afterwards – most ears out there are going to fully understand they’re in for a long but wild ride that demands a whole lot of their attention…and it’s real tough to get people to part with that these days. To me, as much as I found myself enjoying the early cuts on this record, I could feel that weight & challenge to my ears right away too – and credit to Paul, it’s because he’s laid this album out in a way that does build on itself, the momentum starts to shift quickly in his favor, and the amount of pull we feel towards this album gets revealed more and more.
There are actually only TWO songs within this twenty-seven song lineup that are even within the three-minute range – everything else is well above & beyond. “Angel Blue” is one of’em, and starts to spark up the innovative aspect of Paul’s music as the set-list begins to expand its borders and stretch its vibrantly stylistic ways. There aren’t too many all-instrumental cuts on this record, which is almost strange considering it’s absolutely by far Paul’s greatest asset…if he’s gonna have some, you’d almost expect to find a few more within this epic set than you will. That being said, the effect is always welcome – unencumbered by vocal duties leaves this man to roam around and do what he does best – tracks like “Angel Blue” will silence the few remaining doubters about the extraordinary connection this guy has with his axe – Paul Bibbins can play a guitar with the best of’em, and make no mistake about it.
To me, so much of what he does is just straight-up interesting, if not outright fascinating. In terms of the Hendrix sound & vibe – honestly – who out there is more of a match than what you’ll find in Paul Bibbins? While he’s not a complete carbon copy, the influence is almost always apparent – and can you just imagine the CRATER SIZED HOLE that this man right here could potentially fill on playlists out there right now BECAUSE of the sheer amount of similarities there ARE? The best part about it, is you know it all comes out of genuine love & respect for the man, the myth, and the legend himself – Paul isn’t by any means contorting himself into something that’s not 100% natural & suited to him. Honestly? He’s damn near as Jimi as Jimi was. “Last Perfect Performance” is another fairly weighty tune when it comes to how it flexes the dimensions of its structure & sound, stopping & starting with chops flashing in the dynamics along the way…I make no illusions about it being a tougher design for the modern-day crowd to stick with these days, but I’d be crazy not to recognize how timeless this sound still is to this very day. “The Laws Of My Existence” would be similar in that regard – think of it this way, and you’ll know exactly what I mean – right now, think about all the Jimi Hendrix tunes you can think of. If you can go more than about say, four or five songs deep, consider yourself ready to handle all of what you’ll hear throughout The Last Perfect Performance and paced-out, heavier grooves like “The Laws Of My Existence” – if you can only recall “Foxy Lady” and “Fire” & whatnot, then you’re in some real trouble here. Not only for your horrible lack of musical knowledge, but for the journey that lies ahead of you – this record would be filled with the songs akin to those you didn’t know by Hendrix, rather than the ones you do, you dig? The deep cuts…the songs that the real fans understood, just like Bibbins clearly loves.
Listen to the sheer ingenuity on display as “Ten Days To Burn It Down” pumps out there will ya? “Ten Days To Burn It Down?” Paul’s got my speakers practically melted with his scorching hot guitar riffs in much more impressive time, just sayin.’ Ahhh…semantics must be what it is – I’m talkin’ about melting and he’s looking to burn it all down…apples and oranges I suppose. This track has always stood out to me on repeat tours through this record though – “Ten Days To Burn It Down” gets the Funk worked into the Rock, has no problem at all gettin’ weird & wild with it, and delivers on a solid groove that never quits. Droppin’ a bit more of that revolutionary-cool into the vibe and even dipping his toes in the political realm just slightly – Paul takes on “The Man” in “Ten Days To Burn It Down” and gives him a piece of his mind in the process. Quite likely, you’ll find you agree with the sentiment & spirit here. “Ever The Fire, Forever The Wind” will also make people do a double-take as it starts to with Paul stopping, starting, pivoting, and shifting effortlessly, creating a highly unique beginning & overall vibe that again confirms just how much work he’s put into the structure & design of his song on The Last Perfect Performance. This is involved stuff y’all – and to his credit, Bibbins makes every moment feel remarkably natural…you’d have to imagine this guy is capable of lighting-up an amplifier wherever there’s enough juice to supply him plugging in…Paul sounds like he’s an extension of his own guitar. Slower moves & grooves to be found on “Ever The Fire, Forever The Wind,” but it feels like this cut also gives us the opportunity to really get right into what he creates and give it our full appreciation from moment to moment…in fact, of the slower jams on this album, I’d put this one up there with the best. Believe me, when I say slow, that’s a pace thing only – there’s still more than plenty to keep ya fully engaged & entertained along the way from the music to the microphone, I can promise ya that for sure.
“Frantic Freedom” holds its own well enough…I’d imagine people will have no problem diggin’ on this cut and it restores some of the energy we’re lookin’ for back into the lineup. Guy’s such a remarkably skilled guitar player that you can’t help but sit back, listen, and be straight-up blown away by what he’s capable of at times, and the fired-up solos on “Frantic Freedom” are a perfect example of how addictive his approach, style, and sound can truly be. LISTEN to this guy bend those strings will ya? Bibbins has got the kind of uniqueness that can’t help but stand out if you ask me – fantastic technique, and it’s all self-taught, which makes everything audibly just that much more amazing when considering the results. But that’s just the thing y’all – Paul’s got a connection to music that you just can’t teach, that’s the facts.
I maintain…the instrumentals are some of the most fantastic cuts you’ll find on this record, and downright essential to the lineup – I just wanna listen to this man play all damn day, because that’s how authentic he really is in the way he plays. He can sound like Hendrix all he wants to as far as I’m concerned – that’s all cool with me – but it’s the way Paul plays that gives his music the mesmerizing amount of interest & pull towards it that it all has. “Cold Ivory Illusion” is a stellar highlight in that regard – Bibbins often reveals some of his creative & imaginative best when not having to worry about singing at the same time, allowing his instrumentation to do all the talking, and we hear the man, loud & clear. Guy can roam all over a fret-board from the front to back faster than I can type out this sentence.
The other ‘short’ song, at three & a half minutes in length, “Run” comes out swinging quick with an angst-ridden groove that will have you crossing to the other side of the street, rather than cross Paul’s path while he’s out there in the world trying to get his shopping done. Love the structure of this cut and how he’s played it…”Run” is far from what you’d consider a typical tune to be found out there in this world as of late, and it’s freakin’ refreshing to hear this guy take the ball and run so damn far with it all. Plus – as he heads towards the 2:30 mark with a minute left to go, Bibbins start to sing it all out loud & proud, putting in a highlight performance at the very end that has him sounding large & in-charge. “Soft Rains Will Come” is a stellar example & highlight of how deep Paul can get right into the groove and still retain our interest no matter how deep down the rabbit-hole he’ll go, almost in direct contrast to the cut right beforehand. I feel just about the same as I did with the mix on this tune as I did later on with a track called “Forever No Restraints” in the lineup to follow, but also the same about the strengths of the ideas as well. I’ll get into all this down the road here, but suffice it to say, Paul’s got some really stellar cuts here that might need a bit more sparkle & shine to get them to their full potential, but there’s never any dispute about the quality of his ideas, or the absolutely exceptional musicianship he brings, every time. He’s unafraid to get downright gritty & grimy sometimes, and I dig that myself, so right on.
Listen to the man transition as he strolls through “Stone Cold Monday” – and listen to the spectacular level of flash & flair in the musicianship will ya? Paul’s got skills and he’s got soul in the way he plays, and no set of ears could possibly hear what he does any otherwise. There’s no doubt that he’s riffing on some fairly tried, tested, and true Blues/Rock combos here at its core – but he’s never really attempted to hide that influence so much as embrace it all from the get-go, and he absolutely excels at innovating something old into something new through the vibrant & lively way he plays. Tracks like Paul makes are an experience unto themselves – chances are, you’d be able to listen to “Stone Cold Monday” and the vast majority of the songs on this record time & again and still end up feeling like you heard something new along the lines somewhere, no matter how many times you’ve spun it. A wicked squelch, a delightful squeal, a split-second of part of his solo that you can’t live without anymore, after you finally discover it…he’s like the champion of lacing his music with Easter eggs we’ll be finding for decades later. There’s maybe an argument to be made for some of you out there that the production could potentially improve…and you’d be wrong, but that’s okay. What you’re hearing is one man’s effort to not only play tunes that sound straight outta the Jimi era, but also provide them with a similar level of production where studio-meets-live vibes…and in my opinion, while I get there’s a bit of inherent scratchiness to some of it, you can’t actually argue against what he’s accomplished with the goals & intentions he would have had for the vision of this record & what Paul wanted to do, you feel me? It’s in that same respect that, tracks like “The Sun Is Fallin’ in” afterwards would likely appeal much more to the people out there – the many millions around the world, mind you – that dig on the Hendrix sound & the looseness it had. Like, I’d fully get anyone out there telling me they have a tough time hanging with either Paul OR Jimi and following them easily from point-A to point-B…that makes sense to my ears, because it’s a very demanding style of music. Despite how loose it may appear, there’s also intense precision that’s also required along the way when it’s crucial, and Bibbins is always ready & willing to supply that through the guitar when he’s called upon to sharpen the focus & display the grooves he’s rockin’ in accessible ways. Essentially, if you dig your instrumentation, your musicianship, and your expressive vibes – you’ll never have an issue with listening to any of these tracks & likely dig them all – if you’re looking for something to sing along with, then you’ve probably taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, but hopefully you dig where you’ve ended up anyway. There’s more than enough personality in the music that Paul makes to combat any need for a simple verse/chorus/verse – he’s creating songs built on bigger things.
Case in-point, listen to the immaculate crunch & sound of “’Til The 6th Of Saturn” and the effect it has on ya – if you’re any kind of an audiophile like I am, the texture, tone, and badass self-taught technique this guy creates is off-the-charts cool to listen to. While I’d never knock the man down vocally, he like I both know where his bread & butter really is, and that his guitar playing, just like Jimi, says more than his words ever could. If you need convincing of that, “’Til The 6th Of Saturn” is here to help! Bibbins goes the all-instrumental route for this track…and it’s not that you don’t get some of the great instrumentation you’ll find here in other tunes – you do…good LORD do you EVER – but it also has a noticeable effect on Paul’s creativity when he doesn’t have to concern himself with vocal duties in addition to rocking the lights-out as well, you dig? “’Til The 6th Of Saturn” takes me right back to the initial points I was making in this review – THIS is the sound of perfection by my definition, pretty much to the tee, right here in song form. Is it perfect note-for-note? Heck no! Not by the typical definition, and I get that – what I’m simply arguing is that if you can’t genuinely FEEL the music Paul’s playing here, then you’re ice-cold dead inside…right note or wrong one, you WANT to hear the organic realness that he generates, because it sounds ALIVE. Would I trade a thousand copies of “My Fires Burn” for one sweet-sweet ride through the sonic splendor that is “’Til The 6th Of Saturn?” In a virtual heartbeat – though it should be noted, I actually really dig the charming way that Paul sings “My Fires Burn” for the most part too…it’s got a bit more personality in the microphone than many by comparison – all I’m saying is that the untamed instrumentation of this dude when not having to focus on vocals too, is outright amazing in about every way you can think of, and that reveals itself on “’Til The 6th Of Saturn.”
With ten-plus minutes at his disposal, Paul’s running a bit more risk at track eighteen on a twenty-seven song record, as I also implied from the start. Don’t get me wrong, if you like what you hear, chances are, you’ll still have no problem sticking with him…I maintain, you like something about what Paul does, and he’ll continue to supply you with that same very thing – but the similarities that are to be found within the style, sound, and approach make a tour through this full record a serious demand on listening ears, no matter how much you’re enjoying yourself. By the end, like great progressive & psychedelic music tends to do, we’re exhausted – audibly WIPED OUT – because there is THAT much continually going on in Paul’s songs and that much coming directly at us all the time. It might be relegated to drums, bass, and guitar, but the amount of imagination, innovation, creativity, and skills on display stack up to an enormously intense listen…and I’d fully get it if there were people out there that had to break this up into chunks in order to absorb it all, or appreciate the effort he’s genuinely put into this album, in-full. “Eagle’s World Blues” is still another great cut on this record that contains every bit as much of the boldly expressive musicianship & instrumentation as you know he’s capable of – if not more-so because of its length – but for the sad & short attention spans of this world, he’s basically inserted a whole EP into track eighteen here, and that might be a major ask for some at this stage of the game on The Last Perfect Performance. Does it sound cohesive with the rest of the set? Yep, you betcha. No issues there, and it’s nothing to do with what Paul puts into this song, which easily stacks up in quality in-line with all the rest – it’s just a matter of editing and a lil’ self-restraint…a little understanding of how we all might listen to a record, and finding that compromise somewhere between that doesn’t sacrifice what you’re looking to achieve. Did Paul need twenty-seven songs on this record for it to be great? No…but of course not. Would pairing it down have made the experience better somehow? Honestly, I’m not sure. To me, I’d reach for The Last Perfect Performance when I’m in the mood for a psych-driven-Rock sound like Paul creates and have no problem letting the record play…but it is another thing entirely to consider when it comes to the weight it carries in its enormity if you’re to sit & listen with undivided attention.
Loving the low-end grooves and the thickness of “Love Don’t Dare” – that’s a solid jam that supplies a real meaty vibe and the ever-present awesomeness from the axe that Paul so generously contributes – he’s back within the four-minute realm here, and like I said – whether he’s in short form or long form, it’s still Bibbins doin’ his thang the way that he does it – length isn’t really going to affect your opinion of what you hear in any one tune, it’s the heft & beef that you’ll find the whole set-list generates that might add a little wear & tear, but any singular experience simply reveals a man thriving in the moment. “Joe Kool Jack!…Ode To Jimi” has him in an even shorter timeframe, and I’d take a handful of “Eagle’s World Blues” in trade for this one, no problemo. Again, not necessarily a knock on “Joe Kool Jack!…Ode To Jimi” – I ain’t gonna lie, it’s not my favorite of the set, but I’m illustrating the point that, time makes no real difference when it comes to the length of a single song – Paul’s capable of generating successful interest in any duration, it’s more about how much of that you can absorb & take in at one time. I’m realistic, because I’ve been sitting here writing about music for two decades and have an understanding of what the average set of ears can handle…I know that what Bibbins does, the way he does it, and for how long he does it all, is a large ask of listening ears – but those that dig what he does, will love what they find and the smorgasbord he’s got for you on The Last Perfect Performance to dig right into, 100%.
Where I’m personally loving life, is in finding “If I Try,” which to me, was one of the most unique ideas and grooves you’ll find in the entire set – like you get a real glimpse of who Paul is here, with arguably a bit more melody revealed in the process as well. It’s a loose-but-tight tune too in his signature style, but he’s flexed a tremendous amount of diversity in the sound, pace, and overall ideas here – and as a result, he’s got a cut that’s guaranteed to stand out to listeners for all the right reasons. Perhaps it’s more of a focus on melodic hooks than the straight-up unbridled spirit of Rock…maybe it’s the slower pace…maybe it’s his vocals sounding perfectly suited to this particular vibe – all I can tell ya definitively is that everything seems to come together in Paul’s favor on “If I Try” – this is pretty bulletproof cut from start to finish that would make an excellent gateway into the album…single-worthy potential here.
Some of the production does end up playing a role in terms of its accessibility – but keep in mind, this is all Paul, givin’ it everything he’s got that he’s learned on his own, and give him the credit he’s truly due – he’s put together an enormous record here, with highly ambitious tunes. Could there be more sparkle & shine to a song like “Forever No Restraints” perhaps? Sure – you bet – and I have no doubt it would enhance the whole vibe here in ways that could definitely benefit the song – “Forever No Restraints” is a lot more buried in the mix than you’ll find the vast majority of the tunes on this record, and a little dusty by comparison. What IS working extremely well here, are the ideas themselves…I mean, push comes to shove, I’d be more than willing to argue that some of my favorite ideas in the vocals AND music are found right here within this very song…especially the vocals if I’m being outright honest with ya – but I’ll admit, it takes more work on our end to get to them based on how “Forever No Restraints” has come out in the final mix here. The low-end has remarkable presence and that’s spot-on if you ask me – but it seems to have come at the cost of a bit of the sparkle & shine that the rest surrounding it should have to go along with it, even the guitars this time around. As a result, “Forever No Restraints” kind of generates its own diversity in this lineup because of that, but there’s more potential to be mined within a song like this if you ask me. Performance-wise, Paul brings it with just as much large & in-charge confidence & skill as he brings to any other without question…it just needs a bit more oomph in its production to not dull the lively spark that’s become such an addictive quality in the music Paul makes.
“Ballad For The Rock Children” would be a good example of a solid cut that would likely get more credit for being so on a second album than it might within the confines of this huge one Paul’s got here. I don’t mind the scratchiness of the overall sound – I’d even trade that for the more grey palette that “Forever No Restraints” had beforehand in that respect, though the ideas I probably would not. Again, not knocking what he’s got goin’ on with “Ballad For The Rock Children” – I just prefer the ideas on “Forever No Restraints” and think they’re truly that strong is all. Bibbins is locked onto the hippie spirit & vibe for “Ballad For The Rock Children” – and if your name is Moonchild, Star, Tab, or Electric Koolaid – chances are, you’ll have no problem at all digging on this track right here. My money’s on “Rocket Dreams” just afterwards, which was another huge highlight for me in this set of songs on The Last Perfect Performance – you get a spectacular range of soulful sound & undeniably smooth grooves here. Not only does each part of the song have stellar definition to it, but again, if you’re listening to Paul’s music, you can’t help but admire his gift of expression through the way he plays guitar…the tone & textures he infuses into his grooves contain radiant passion and all-out addictive, electrifying sound. As he makes his way into the third minute of “Rocket Dreams,” he’ll drop one of the most sensational solos you’ll find on this album, and the killer verses he’s put into this track can’t be beat – I’m all about it.
The final original cut comes in the form of “Index Of Fools” and wraps up the record with a final display of what Paul is capable of creating with a strong track where everything lines up real tight for the man. He’s still got covers to follow, but as far as his own tunes go, he’s capped it at twenty-five; the rest is a bonus encore for the hardcores, and a tributary cut to honor Jimi with Paul’s version of “Voodoo Child.” “Index Of Fools” ended up being a stellar last dose of his own originality though – I felt like Bibbins held back one of his best here to give ya a powerful conclusion his original set at the end, and that it certainly paid off – every time I got to “Index Of Fools” I always appreciated the repeat-worthy sound of what I was hearing, and it had me spinning this album from start to finish in-full multiple times over the course of this past couple weeks or so. The sheer amount of creative freedom and artistic expression to be found on The Last Perfect Performance…I mean…these are things that come in tandem – you couldn’t have a ‘perfect performance’ without those two essential ingredients – they’re absolutely crucial, and Paul has shown you time & again throughout this whole album that he’s limitlessly stocked with both.
I’ll let “The Star Spangled Banner” speak for itself this fourth of July – happy holiday to you all out there!
Does he go on to CRUSH his way through “Voodoo Child,” you ask? Please. You’ve read this review – if you’ve made it this far, you KNOW this man was BUILT to bring it to a Jimi tune, and he’s absolutely rocked this cover to the nth degree in a way that should have every fan of Hendrix cheering him on at the top of their lungs. I’ll put it to you this way – there’s a whole lotta grey in my beard – I’ve heard many covers of Jimi songs out there in this world to this point in time…and almost every one of’em I’ve ever listened to, lacks the magic that Paul is capable of generating in the way he plays. Because it’s not just about what you’re playing – it’s how you play it – and there’s no doubt in my mind that what you hear in Paul’s ferocious self-taught skillset, has that very same magic Hendrix discovered so long ago. Even on a cover tune, Bibbins retains the authenticity & originality that has made so much of this record an absolutely spectacular experience to check out – he does his hero proud with this cover of “Voodoo Child” – I’d have to imagine that were the man here to listen himself today, Jimi would give his approval.
Find out more about Paul Bibbins from his official website at: https://paulbibbins.com