The Gibson Brothers
They Called It Music
5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
At a time when select Americana labels seldom release a bluegrass album, Compass Records is coming to the fore as a consistent source of good bluegrass: the Special Consensus, Dale Ann Bradley and Larry Stephenson, of course, but also Peter Rowan, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Rebecca Frazier, the Bankesters, and Claire Lynch… the new releases keep coming.
The Gibson Brothers joined the Compass fold a couple albums back, and since that time have rapidly built upon the foundation they established recording with Hay Holler and Sugar Hill. Each of the album’s I’ve heard from the Gibson Brothers has had much to recommend it, but there comes the time where a new album from almost any superior bluegrass band is met with a bit of a shrug. We tend to take our “stars” a bit for granted, expecting every album to be “great,” whatever that means.
Maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but I suspect I’m not.
By near any measure, the Gibson Brothers are at the pinnacle of the bluegrass world. They are the reigning International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainers of the Year, and have picked up a handful of awards from that organization the past three years. At various times, they have topped the most significant bluegrass charts- Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, and Bluegrass Music Profiles.
They Called It Music is pretty darned fabulous. One cannot accuse the Gibsons of resting on their laurels; they continue to push themselves toward producing stronger, more varied music, recording songs that they have spent time uncovering, as well as more than a few they’ve written themselves. The gentler, songwriter-type songs are adroitly mixed with catchier radio numbers, a pair of which—”Buy A Ring, Find a Preacher” and the title track—are frontloaded.
No two songs can be confused, and the album’s closing number, an Eric Gibson composition entitled “Songbird’s Song” is incomparable; transcending bluegrass while strengthening its definition, this one may prove timeless.
There is no mistaking the vocal intensity of the Gibson Brothers, and on They Called It Music the emphasis on harmony is as palatable as ever. Leigh Gibson, the younger brother, has a smooth, pleasing voice while the Eric’s is higher, more piercing and Del-like: lovely, that.
No matter which is singing, it sounds real good. Leigh’s finest of many lead turns may be on a terrific new song from Joe Newberry, “The Darker the Night, the Better I See;” this barstool anthem is pitiful and blue—absolutely beautiful. I was gobsmacked from the moment he sang, “I’ve honky tonked most all my life, my day begins at the edge of night.” Leigh also takes the lead on his brother’s “Dusty Old World,” a song that contains the album’s cleverest line: “My heart’s a loyal hound and when love it’s found, it won’t leave your side once its tracked you down.”
Meanwhile, Eric shines when singing Mark Knopfler’s “Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville” and the title track, a song that emphasizes artificial labels are less important than the music itself. Reno & Smiley’s (and the Paisleys’, and Cowboy Copas’) “Sundown and Sorrow” serves as a fine snippet of what the Gibson Brother’s sound is all about—yesterday’s classic lines within a sleek outfit designed for today.
The duo return to Shawn Camp on this album. Written with Loretta Lynn, “Dying For Someone to Live For” flat out stops time; this one could go on repeat for an hour without bother. As well, with Camp the brothers wrote the reflectively sentimental “Something Comin’ to Me”, a song made more personal to the co-writers with the addition of lyrics in honour of their passed father.
Their band had been stable until the recent departure of Joe Walsh, who plays mandolin throughout this album. Walsh’s contributions to the album are obvious, and I appreciated his playing several times, including on “Dying For Someone To Live For” and his gentle kick-off to “Home On The River.” Fiddler Clayton Campbell lays out sweetness at every opportunity (as on the album’s lead song) while co-producer and bassist Mike Barber appears to be in for life considering how long he’s been part of the family; his exploration of deep tones is much appreciated within “Something Comin’ to Me” and “Home On The River.”
A masterful recording, this eleventh one from The Gibson Brothers. If it ever did, it should no longer matter from which state they originate, or whether their family roots are entwined with Kentucky grass. The Gibson Brothers know bluegrass like few others, and they perform it as enthusiastically and professionally as the finest in the business. Indeed, an argument could be made that, with this album, they demonstrate that they are the finest in the business.