The Gibson Brothers keep besting themselves by following principles I imagine they used playing baseball: throwing strikes, playing a tough infield, getting on base, advancing the runner, and never letting up.
The title track on their latest album, Help my Brother, springs forth with the optimism and hope that The Open Road did on their 2003 release, Bona Fide. Joe Walsh brings the same lustrous mandolin tone to the band that Marc MacGlashan did in the early oughts. The bass run Leigh lays down in Walking West to Memphis is perfect for the prodigal narrator looking to mend his ways. At the end of the last verse Mike Barber walks the line with him.
Dixie’s imagery of an Elvis the world never knew is riveting. Frozen in Time must appeal to all us “dinosaurs,” purchasing CD’s and pining for covers of Louvin Brothers’ and Jim and Jesse McReynolds’ songs. Both Eric and Leigh’s melodies have the easy likeability of pop music, but instead of becoming tiresome after multiple listens, my brain only wants more. He Can Be Found adds another spectacular song from the Louvins’ catalogue to the Gibsons’.
As he should, Eric kicks off Joe Newberry’s uplifting Singing as We Rise, with a Stanley-inspired banjo introduction. Pitched in the key of B, the song reminds me of Somebody Touched Me. Multiple nods to Dr. Ralph bands of the early 1970’s include the arrangement of voices in the chorus, Barber’s propelling and uninterrupted line of fifths, Clayton’s channeling of old-time bluegrass fiddler Curly Ray Cline and inclusion of former Stanley pupil, now icon, Ricky Skaggs.
Want vs. Need sounds as if Leigh is using a combination of flatpick and fingerpicking to great effect, as he does on the Mountain Song from Long Way Back Home. In his hands, the archtop exhales the chords at the beginning of Talk to Me, while the singer pleads for a re-connection with his lover and friend. Alison Brown and Joe Walsh’s instruments exchange tender musings until Clayton’s fiddle soars and lands. Claire Lynch lets out a beautifully plaintive response.
With biting harmonies and bluesy instrumentals, One Car Funeral arrives. Eric and Leigh’s dialed-in responsiveness to one another’s lilt and diction convey the words of the chorus as in step as the underappreciated Just an Old Rounder from Ring the Bell.
After my son goes to sleep, and Just Lovin’ You comes round on the stereo, I think my wife and I both purr like cats from our perches on the sofa. It’s that good. The brisk and demanding I’ll Love Nobody But You is a song Eric and Leigh started singing in high school. Good thing. I got lightheaded just trying to figure out what notes they hit in their harmonies. Safe Passage, Leigh’s tale of Gibson family history up to the present day, ends with a rare glimpse into his own life as a musician and son.
Bluegrass devotees will argue whether Eric and Leigh are “the best” of the brother duets of all time. Their legacy as one of the finest is without question. Help My Brother will earn the Gibson Brothers more accolades, devoted fans and appreciation as songwriters, individual musicians, and most importantly, as a team.