Sunday, November 15, 2009

20 Days in November - Day 10: The Gibson Brothers

Last week I noted in a review of the Steep Canyon Rangers that modern bluegrass music is experiencing a renaissance; however I failed to include in the groups responsible - a major contributor: The Gibson Brothers. I had come late to the party regarding this act - having never heard their music until early last spring with the release of Ring the Bell. Now I'm hooked and trying to make up for lost time in respect to their eight previous releases. In fact, the title track to their previous release, Iron and Diamonds was nominated in the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year category. What makes the Gibson Brothers special is the entire package: strong instrumentals, complementary lead vocals, great songwriting, and most of all, fabulous harmonies.

Since receiving Ring the Bell and watching the band's single performance at Merlefest - I have listened to the CD at least once a week. Its that good. And tonight courtesy of the DC Bluegrass Union and the James Lee Community Center, I was able to not only hear a majority of songs from the CD, but also hear an explanation about each song. For instance I learned that two of the songs, "I Know Whose Tears" and "Jericho" were written by North Carolina singer-songwriter Joe Newberry. One of my favorite tracks, "The Wishing Well" was written by Shawn Camp. See, another positive trait, the know how to select great songs written bu other artists. Tonight they also performed Steve Earle's "The Other Side of Town" which is also in Iron and Diamonds as well as the Band's "Ophelia" - released in Long Way Back Home.

Now, Eric and Leigh Gibson grew up in upstate New York and I mean upstate - as in north of the Adirondacks. Their parents owned a dairy farm near the Canadian border which Eric describes in "Farm of Yesterday" as "our backs against the border - staring at the mountains to the south". And most of the original material in their music reflects life within that community. "Farm of Yesterday" is a tribute to their parents and should be the signature song for campaigns against factory farming. My favorite song in Ring the Bell, "Bottomland", which they didn't play this evening echos the struggles of farming. Leigh gave us a history lesson when describing "Iron and Diamonds" and how the iron ore mined just south of their farm was used to make the steel in the Golden Gate bridge and several bridges in NY City. The song is a powerful reminder of the dangers of mining and how the miners coped through their love of baseball. By request they performed the "Barn Song" from Red Letter Day which reminds us how we are losing our family farms. Leigh eloquently states how "town grew up and ate it's farm - all was left was the big ol' barn". And not only are these powerful songs , but Eric and Leigh have surrounded themselves with an excellent supporting cast of Mike Barber (upright bass), Clayton Campbell (fiddle), and Joe Walsh (mandolin). Leigh is the ringleader offering subtle encouragement and praise as he nodded for each to take center stage.And throughout the evening Eric and Leigh maintain that sibling chemistry which allows them to kid the other - as in Eric having " high nasally vocals" - or being proud of the others accomplishments and talents. What a terrific show.

Before the Gibson Brothers took stage, regional bluegrass artist, the Chester River Runoff entertained us with similar song topics. For this band hales from Chestertown Maryland, on the eastern shore and have also seen the demise of farms - sold to accommodate housing developments. Ben Armiger (guitar) and Sam Guthridge (banjo) are the backbone of the quartet and what is readily apparent is that they can write interesting songs. "Too Many Sunny Days" describes their ill fated pumpkin growing enterprise and "getting skinny off the fat of the land". "Plastic Houses" describes the trading of land and development. I really liked Guthridge's song of being a little awkward with the opposite sex in "Until Then" - love the lyric "I'll meet you in the morning, down by the fountain square, sounds good to me, but not as good as staying here". Obviously not as polished as the main act - these guys have a lot of potential - just need a little more established stage presence. But I'll be following them closely - maybe even this Wednesday at the Lion & Bull.

Thanks to the DC Bluegrass Union for a great evening. And as usual, more pictures are available at the MyJoog Gallery.

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