“Ring the Bell” is the first Gibson Brothers album being released today by Compass Records, and it’s a great new contribution to their ever growing record of accomplishment and musical creativity. The twelve new songs, including five by Eric and Leigh Gibson, present them doing what they do perhaps better than any other band around today. The honesty and truthfulness of their lyrics perfectly complement the sincerity of their close knit brother harmonies. This new album should take its place beside their four previous number one disks at the top of the charts.
“I Know Whose Tears” by Joe Newberry leads off the Gibson Brothers new CD “Ring the Bell” with an uplifting song about the power of:
Mother my truest friend,
Mother way up in Heaven,
Mother, we’ll meet again.
Opening with an almost dirge like fiddle solo from Clayton Campbell, the song leaps into a meditation of the calamities that can befall a loving son (hanging, death in a foreign land, drowning, death in a right cause, or damnation) and affirm the power of a mother’s love to salve the soul and bring peace. Eric Gibson’s clear tenor and haunting banjo dominate this song with Leigh Gibson’s close, high harmony providing the fill. As is usual in a Gibson Brothers interpretation of a song, sincerity and honesty dominate this song that in lesser hands and voices could reek of sentimentality. Clayton’s fiddle, echoing the word “mother” each time it reaches out provides the perfect punctuation. Joe Newberry has written a lyric that could easily fall into maudlin sentimentality into a song of faith and belief without the usual "yuck" factor that can accompany mother songs.
This album was recorded using the current Gibson Brothers touring band of Leigh and Eric Gibson, Mike Barber on bass, Clayton Campbell on fiddle, and new addition Joe Walsh on mandolin with an occasional hand from MikeWitcher on Dobro. In “I Can’t Like Myself,” Leigh, Eric, Mike, and Joe have collaborated on writing a lilting song that captures the problems of abject love in which the singer must choose between liking himself and loving the object of his affection:
And be alone with the big blue sky,
Gonna cry, gonna cry ‘til the sky ain’t blue,
Or I like myself, and I don’t love you.
Walsh’s bouncy mandolin breaks and fills add a new, fluid style and sound to the Gibson Brothers sound without changing their essential vibe. In this song, Leigh’s voice takes the lead with a sense of self-discovery. Eric’s banjo triplets emphasize the positive nature of the song and the singers.
Many Gibson Brothers love songs describe relationships that are falling or missing something without one or the other partner being to blame. Somehow, lost love and missed communications are what happens in life. In the Shawn Camp and Paul Kennerly song “The Wishing Well,” Leigh sings:
There must be something wrong,
It’s taken my last dollar,
And I’m sinking like a stone.
Mike Witcher contributes an understated, but perfect, Dobro sound in this song as well as several others. The interplay of fiddle and mandolin here is delightful as the song dances through the sense of lost love without lost hope. Perhaps this is characteristic of the typical Gibson Brother’s song, that even as life looks dark, the genuine sound of hope for the future stands out. Despite the singer’s assertion that he’s sinking like a stone, I can’t help feeling things will work out, perhaps because he may have learned that wishing won’t do the trick.
And the barber and the preacher,
All held hands and moved as one.
This captures the spirit in the Chet O’Keefe song. As so often happens in Eric and Leigh’s work, the sounds echo across the mountain and valleys that capture the sense of the Adirondack Mountains dominating the region just to the south of their northern New York home. Eric’s understated yet powerful banjo shows itself wonderfully in this song. His banjo work has yet to receive the recognition it deserves. While not a dominating virtuoso, everything he does is designed to serve the lyric, which always comes first in Gibson Brothers work. The power of the Spirit to touch a person at the core comes through this song in every note.
Found my lifeline, when drifting through space,
I saw an angel, I saw my face,
I can only thank God it was not too late
captures the relief and joy of finding the end of loneliness. The tempo and drive of the song modulate in support of the words as the dream may or may not become reality.
The Cabin Stage at Merlefest
Feel the sunshine on your skin,
Our golden days will never fade,
Forever has no end, forever has no end.
It celebrates the value of commitment to marriage and to seeking to maintain the good things in relationships through eternity. “That’s What I Get for Lovin’ You” by Eric and Leigh shows the other side of the coin: the pain of loss and the emptiness of a relationship gone bad. As so often happens in good bluegrass songs the upbeat message communicated by the music contrasts markedly with the content of the lyric.