Eric and Leigh Gibson have opened up their hearts wide with They Called It Music (Compass Records, 2013), an exquisite album of aching songs recorded at the end of 2012, less than a year after the death of their father. The charging intuitive ensemble rings with lump-in-your-throat truths and Gibson trademark harmonies.
The recording and mixing of the album make me feel like I am standing in the middle of the band: Barber’s gut bucket-like thrumphh and humm propel through any song stream–rocky and rough or glassy smooth; Eric’s fully twanged Deering make the slide-roll-pinch patterns sound like the Eureka moment of the old-time two to three-finger Scruggs conversion; Walsh’s atmospheric tremolo, spiked chords, provocative rhythms and wrought iron fills are a meaty ballet; Clayton tames the four-string fretless beast drawing lines above and below the band like a sky writing calligrapher; and Leigh prepares the guitar parts omakase with a mixture of Henderson Brazilian dreadnought, mahagony Martin double-ought, and Gibson archtop into an un-crackable block.
Buy a Ring, Find a Preacher crosses the start line first. It’s a rumble of a song with duet singing bumper-to-bumper that reminds me of Gillian Welch’s storied songwriting. They Called it Music romanticizes an earlier era in old-time, country and bluegrass when it wasn’t as divided by genre and obsessed with corporate earnings. The Gibson combination of fine songwriting, gutsy dedicated band members, and some of the finest instruments around challenge the notion that the best of times are past and gone. But the song’s moral sticks: cherish the old as you create anew. Enter Joe Newberry, Master Jedi of making the new sound old. The Darker the Night the Better I See is a vintage vehicle custom made for the IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year nominee. Leigh drives it by just under the town speed limit.
In Dying for Someone to Live For, Ms Loretta Lynn and Mr Shawn Camp draw ably from the gospels of A.P., Hank and their many roadside Baptist and Bluesy seers. Loneliness, weeping willow, and whippoorwill are woven with Leigh and Eric’s almost continuous harmony into the first of several tissue grabbing songs.
I’ll Work it Out presents the central theme to everything Gibson: Work! I see Eric and Leigh sharing Something Comin’ to Me with their mom and dad. The song’s poignancy comes, in part, from knowing their father died months before it was written. As a Gibson Brothers fan wrote on Facebook, “I flat out love this song.” I’m with you brother.
Mark Knopfler’s Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville is St Louis Ragtime floated through the honky-tonks of Tennessee and pulled ashore in the Faubourg Marigny of New Orleans by the brothers five. Joe Walsh leads off the quintet”s swing through this gumbo of regional American stylings. Leigh jumps from melody on verse to the tenor part on the chorus of Dusty Old World, an Eric Gibson original yearning for answers to questions of our reason for being.
There are few things like listening to the Gibson Brothers sacred song harmony. On Home on the River Eric and Leigh’s shared musical DNA synergistically combines into the elusive “third voice,” a harmonic rising above lead and tenor. I Will Always Cross Your Mind brings comfort to the bereaved with its signs that our loved ones gone home never leave us. Sundown and Sorrow features one of my favorite words in the Gibson lexicon, “sorrow,” with its emphasis on the first syllable (“SOAR-oh”).
Songbird’s Song is a profound yet simply put denouement. Deeply evocative, it is a lyrical recitative of a phoenix rising. The wailing falsettos cry out as they lift each other up, bound by musicianship, steeped in emotion, and transcendent of genre.
They Called It Music is available wherever great music is sold.