The Gibson Brothers Bring Their Purist Bluegrass Chops to Town This Weekend
The Gibson Brothers win IBMA’s (International Bluegrass Music Association awards) like the Giants win the World Series: every year, it seems. Guitarist Leigh Gibson and his banjo-playing brother Eric, bassist Mike Barber, fiddler Clayton Campbell and mandolinist Jesse Brock are playing a tantalizing, guitar-heavy bluegrass quadruplebill on Jan 11 starting at 7 PM at City Winery with the brilliant Tim O’Brien kicking things off, then the Gibsons, Bryan Sutton, Sierra Hull, and the Travelin’ McCourys headlining at around 10. General admission for standing room is $28, kind of steep, but not such a bad deal considering the quality of the musicianship. “My hit parade has about three chords, but I guarantee you won’t get bored,” Leigh Gibson sings, and he’s right.
The brothers’ most recent album is They Called It Music, streaming at Spotify. What’s most obvious from a listen all the way through is how purist, and low-key most of the songs are: the solos tend to be tantalizingly short, and the lyrics are aphoristic, sometimes funny and sometimes with a bite that’s all too often missing in newschool oldschool Americana. The wry opening track, Buy a Ring, Find a Preacher has a guy who always had “one foot in, one foot out,” telling his long-suffering girl that now he’s dead set on tying the knot…”but it may not be today.” The title track, with some sweet flatpicking from Leigh Gibson, has a subtext that screams pretty loud: nobody expects any New Nashville pop songs to be sung in church choirs, or in prison cells, or behind battle lines.
The Darker the Night, the Better I See offers a fond nod to Hank Williams, a low-key, slyly aphoristic honkytonking anthem. Brock and Campbell’s elegant lines carry the wistful waltz Dying for Someone to Live For, while Eric Gibson’s banjo fuels the amiably shuffling I’ll Work It Out. His brother’s flatpicking drives the midtempo, brooding workingman’s anthem Something Comin’ to Me, Brock and Campbell joining the interweave of spiky textures.
The most reto 1930s-style number here is the bluesy, swaying Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville. The most affectingly angst-fueled one is Dusty Old World. From there the band shift into more hopeful territory with the country gospel Home on the River and then go back toward the shadows with the bittersweet, understatedly vengeful I Will Always Cross Your Mind. They pick up the pace with the banjo-and-fiddle-driven Sundown and Sorrow and wind up the album with Songbird’s Song, the longest number here, a platform for some especially incisive mando work from Brock. All this manages to be trad without being deferential and captures the kind of bristling electricity the band delivers onstage – worth going out for on a Sunday evening if this kind of music is your thing.