april 2008

The Gibson Brothers
Sugar Hill

Who knew that Tom Petty could write a bluegrass come-on song? Eric and Leigh Gibson, that's who. The ever-more-impressive brother duo opens its fourth album with a feisty treatment of Petty's "Cabin Down Below," their sibling harmonies at once keening and suggestive of sensual pleasures a-borning, with Clayton Campbell's jagged fiddle soloing and Rick Hayes's tart mandolin lines setting the proper ambiance for the brothers' engaging shot at friendly persuasion. But the Gibsons are making a habit of finding first-rate material to cover: here they capture what they call the "honky tonkin' grass" of Steve Earle's "The Other Side of Town" in a swell of rich harmony singing and Campbell's evocative twin fiddling, step it up and go on Julie Miller's "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go," examine the eternal wound in an obscure Faron Young-Roger Miller co-write, the heartbreaking "A World So Full of Love," and wind up on sacred ground in a high lonesome treatment of Bill Carlisle's "Gone Home," all cascading voices and lonesome fiddle work. And yet their own original songs, eight on this album, stand toe-to-toe with this good work from others' pens. The title track is a dark, winsome reminiscence from their childhood, detailing the abiding toil of miners' lives and the Sunday afternoon release of community baseball games (hence the "Diamonds" in the title). A piercing chronicle of post-breakup blues, their beautiful, loping tearjerker, "Lonely Me, Lonely You," features Eric's graceful, lower-strings acoustic guitar solo and Mike Barber's upright bass supplying a mournful pulse for the close, crying vocal harmonies. Social commentary is the order of the day in "Angry Man," as the lyrics describe the singers' frustration with a dysfunctional, bickering, partisan society, their grievances set to a brisk arrangement keyed by Leigh's discursive guitar solos, all of it a setup to a provocative chorus that queries, "Have we gone so far that we can't get back/Why's every good deed get undone?/Must we all fight 'til kingdom come?/I'm an angry man/Am I the only one?""Picker's Blues" acknowledges looming personal and professional disasters attending the itinerant musician's life, but the band's confident strut behind the Gibsons' enthusiastic declarations of affection for their work suggests the richer rewards inherent in the minstrels' lot, a defense best exemplified by the dozen diamonds herein.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
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