march 2011

Eric (left) and Leigh Gibson: Lookin’ out for number one plus one.

It Takes Two, Baby

The Gibson Brothers talk about connecting. Woe be unto those who don’t.

By David McGee

The Gibson Brothers
Compass Records

For want of a single comma, the greater purpose of the Gibson Brothers’ fine new album might be misunderstood. For this is an exercise in one-on-one connecting, with one better off reaching out to another in distress and trying to bring some solace to a troubled soul. An explanation is in order.

Consider: Leigh Gibson’s sprightly album opener, the title track, finds Leigh setting aside his selfish ways in order to be a better friend to the friendless--“Call it compassion, call it charity/I call it living like the living should be” he sings in his reedy, affecting tenor, while occasionally laying back to let fiddler Clayton Campbell and mandolinist Joe Walsh lay on a bit of instrumental urgency to Gibson’s pronouncements. Chris Henry’s “Walkin’ West to Memphis,” with its determined, purposeful gait, finds a ramblin’, gamblin’ man with a single goal in mind: abandoning his wandering ways to settle down in the Bluff City with the gal he left behind--he even admits they don’t see eye to eye on everything (“I likes me a glass of whiskey/But she likes lemonade”) but so what when their time together at the end of the day (“We both like some hugging”) is so much more satisfying than being a stranger alone in a strange city? Joe Newberry’s bluegrass gospel-tinged toe-tapper “Singing As We Rise,” featuring yet another pair of energizing solos from Campbell and Walsh, simply catalogues the strength of the family unit, a point emphasized in the sturdy gospel quartet harmony in the choruses and rather underscored by the voice of Ricky Skaggs lending heartfelt lead and harmony vocals. Collaborating with Tim O’Brien at a moment when O’Brien is at the very top of his game, Leigh and brother Eric offer “Want vs. Need,” a subdued, gently propulsive ballad about a man who took for granted not only his material gains, but also a good woman’s love. Now it’s time to recoup--not money, but love, the one sure thing he cast aside in his folly--“Wants are never-ending and true love is unbending/Now I know I need you by my side,” Leigh confesses in a moment of palpable chagrin reflected in the slight wobble in his voice.

Eric and Leigh Gibson discuss Help My Brother

What becomes of the disconnected? Look, first, to Eric’s “Dixie,” which is nothing less than a gentle folk-flavored ballad about what author Peter Guralnick called “the unmaking of Elvis Presley,” in this case identified as “the boy from Tupelo.” The sorrow in this telling ironically involves connection, but of a toxic nature--that between Elvis and his manager, the Colonel, the latter an inveterate gambler at the Vegas casinos whose habit Eric views as metaphor for a darker reality: “He’s betting on your life/He’s gambling with your soul.” We know how it all ended, and somehow the stark arrangement, with Eric on banjo, Leigh on guitar, Campbell on fiddle and Walsh on mandolin easing on through the arrangement with soft, tender moans and cries evokes the bleak loneliness enveloping the Hillbilly Cat in his final, tortured years. Sadder still, though its atmosphere is upbeat, is a Gibson Brothers-Jon Weisberger co-write, “One Car Funeral,” being about the demise of a forgotten man, who spent a lifetime retreating from connection, and upon his demise shares his funeral day with only “the preacher and the digger…and no one really cared.” The scene is unsettling--“No flowers on the casket/Not one word of regret/No loved ones there mourning/No one to cry ‘not yet’…”--but then, you get out of something pretty much what you put into it, although you might deduce that bit of wisdom from the song as Eric and Leigh harmonize with relish in telling the tale, and banjo, fiddle and mandolin inject some animated soloing into the woeful narrative.

The Gibson Brothers perform the bluegrass gospel title track from their 2009 album, Ring the Bell, and, from the same long player, the hard driving ‘Jericho,’ at the Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival, June 14, 2009, Wind Gap, PA.

Now, devotees of brotherly harmony can rest assured of finding it in ample, soaring quantities on the album, and to press the point about sibling confluence, the Gibsons do a fine job with a heartwarming Jim & Jesse love song, “I’ll Love Nobody But You,” which also features some tasty dobro work by Mike Witcher. But again, for want of a comma the wealth of soul and conscience--nay, the humanity--informing this splendid effort is somewhat attenuated. Help My Brother is a laudable sentiment; but Help, My Brother!? Now you’re onto something.

The Gibson Brothers’ Help My Brother is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024