“In The Ground” by the Gibson Brothers

The Gibson Brothers
In The Ground
Rounder Records

4½ stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

With a consistent approach to bluegrass instrumentation and arguably the finest country-influenced vocals in the genre, the Gibson Brothers have—for a decade now—been one of the top-performing acts.

Recording for more than twenty years, the Gibsons—Leigh (guitar) and Eric (banjo)—along with long-term bandmates Mike Barber (bass) and Clayton Campbell (fiddle), as well as veteran journeyman Jesse Brock (mandolin)—have delivered album after album of audience-pleasing bluegrass, instilling their approach with solid country overtones.

For the first time, the duo have produced an album of entirely original material, a hallmark for any prominent bluegrass group. There was a time not too long ago when the motivation behind bluegrass albums was seemingly little more than to have fresh product to sell at show tables, often hastily assembled and recorded with slight consideration to legacy. Fortunately and for the most part, those days have passed.

The songs comprising In The Ground have been allowed time to mellow and mature, some having had a gestation of years. The impact is obvious—these songs feature thoughtful themes and rhymes (“My Quiet Mind,” among others), considered cadence (“Look Who’s Crying,” ditto), challenging and often surprising arrangements (“I Can’t Breathe Deep Yet”), and masterful instrumentation and singing.

While the connection to family traditions and historical birthright is as apparent in these thirteen songs as they are across most bluegrass albums, the Gibsons’ innate and honed abilities elevate their creation above what is typically encountered along the bluegrass landscape. As Eric sings and writes in “Making Good Time,”

“We feel like we’ve been here before,

the truth is we’re really not sure

Are we driving a few miles more, are we staying?

This new kind of freedom we’ve found

to nobody’s roadmap we’re bound…”

It is their originality that emerges throughout this collection. Based as always in the traditions of country and bluegrass’ influential generations, the songs reflect lives lived. Youthful ignorance and indiscretion (“Fool’s Hill”) exist alongside appreciation for the guitarist’s consistent companion (“Friend of Mine”). Leaving home and finding one’s own path (“Highway,” a song with an unusual but appealing rhythm, and “Remember Who You Are,” revealing a father’s guidance) are balanced by the isolation and longing of “Everywhere I Go” and the desolation of “Homemade Wine.” A story of personal salvation is revealed in “I Found a Church Today” while the title track may strike a meaningful chord for those who have lost connection to their land.

Perhaps their most personal recording, In The Ground doesn’t wallow in self-reflection. By drawing on their experiences, the Gibson siblings have crafted an album of universal appeal: all listeners are likely to see themselves revealed within a song or three, and will be able to identify with the sentiments offered and situations alluded. That considerable artistic heft is apparent within an eminently listenable collection of bluegrass is testament to the continued personal and creative maturation of its creators.