Help My Brother, the Gibson Brothers’ most recent release on Compass Records, includes original songs by Eric and Leigh that range from deeply buried within the bluegrass aesthetic (One Car Funeral, Eric, Leigh and Jon Weisberger) to the lyricism of the singer-songwriter (Dixie, Eric).
Earlier releases have included Arleigh (Bona Fide, SHR 2003), a Celtic inflected homage to their grandfather, which Eric wrote. I love the stirring effect of the bodhran on the recording which the band manages to capture in live performance even without percussion. The titles alone of Railroad Line (Bona Fide, SHR 2003) and The Barn Song (Red Letter Day, SHR 2006), both written by Leigh, are sufficient to conjure images symbolic of an American romance that has passed its prime. Eric and Leigh can both write melodies that are haunting and reflective of the questions their words pose about the passage of time, progress and loss. Eric’s Farm of Yesterday (Ring the Bell, CR 2009) continues to stop me in my tracks with its cinematic presentation of the brothers’ early years in the morning on the Gibson dairy farm with their humble and hard-working mother and father.
Hearing That Bluegrass Music (Bona Fide, SHR 2003; written by Leigh, Eric and Mike Barber) at the Grey Fox Master’s Stage in 2010 is a highlight of my festival memories because of the crowd’s identification with the lyric – “there’s nothing special ’bout this farmer’s field but it’s magical when we gather here and the music’s real”- and the synergy this created between audience and musicians. The song is true to their passion and a tribute to the audience and fellow musicians that have watched them mature into nationally and even internationally acclaimed artists.
Bandmates, Mike Barber (bass), Clayton Campbell (fiddle) and Joe Walsh (mandolin) value every song and the band’s sound more than displays of their own virtuosity, of which they have plenty. Their presence on the stage is a palpable but refined strength, much like the brothers’.
The Gibson Brothers are setting a new standard in songwriting from within the bluegrass genre. A performance by the band always includes their own songs as well as others’ and always shoots straight to my at once aching heart.
The Gibson Brothers perform at the Emelin Theater in Mamaroneck, New York on October 21, 2011 at 8 pm. Check out the Emelin’s website for information about tickets, getting there, and other performers in the 2011-2012 bluegrass series.