On their fourth Sugar Hill release the Gibson Brothers have dialed back their high-energy bluegrass sound to focus on songs and lyrics rather than hot picking.
The brothers hail from upstate New York, and while most modern bluegrass bands eschew regionalism, they embrace and emphasize the stylistic nuances that differentiate New England-style bluegrass from its Southern counterparts. Instead of the Virginia accents of Jim and Jessie, Leigh and Eric Gibson retain a New York lilt.
Their vocal accents and inflections are reminiscent of the great Canadian singer/songwriter Ian Tyson. But instead of folk, the Gibsons do bluegrass and are responsible for seven of the 13 cuts here. The five others were written by the likes of Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Julie Miller, and Faron Young. The title cut has a plaintive Celtic edge and tells of Adirondack mountain miners’ love of baseball (yes, there were mines in northern New York). Their cover of Steve Earle’s “The Other Side of Town” captures the song’s Ray Price-influenced honky-tonk sound while keeping it bluegrass. The Gibsons’ treatment of Julie Miller’s “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” couples the song’s old-timey two-step rhythm with a Louvin Brothers’-style double lead vocal. The results are jaunty and haunting.
Compared to other top-tier contemporary bluegrass bands, the Gibson Brothers have a more palatable sound with less nasal twang and full-throttle rhythm playing. Their overall feel has more in common with folk-grass – and that’s not a bad thing. Many bluegrass fans will enjoy music that caresses rather than pummels.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.