Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Gibson Brothers - Darkest Hour

The first time we saw the Gibson Brothers perform, as best we can ascertain, was at the 2005 or 2006 Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival, then held at the small municipal park in Weston, VT. For this show, they had a six member band, with Junior Barber coming out of retirement for a guest appearance. We were struck by their wonderful melodies, close harmony, sometimes edgy brotherly byplay, and far ranging repertoire, which had always contained many of their own songs. We became instant fans, and their being in the lineup became one of the criteria we applied for choosing which festivals to attend. 

Gibson Brothers at Jenny Brook - 2006

As we grew in our understanding and appreciation of bluegrass music, we also became aware that they fit into some special niches. Coming from northernmost New York State, they had grown up on a hardscrabble farm in an almost desolate area quite close to the Canadian border. Yet they had become, at quite young ages, masters of the banjo and guitar, and knowledgeable about the southern rural roots where the music emerged. To it, they brought their own fine song writing and wonderful brother harmonies. As they’ve grown as musicians and individuals, they’ve followed their own unique musical skills into places where many bluegrass musicians never venture, while continuing to develop their own unique sound. 

We’ve been listening to the new Gibson Brothers recording “Darkest Hour” for over a month in concert, on CD, and now on an excellent podcast presented by Bluegrass Unlimited and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum, as well as individual songs used in a variety of interviews.  The recording as well as the Gibson Brothers themselves only grow on us with each hearing, whether live or recorded. Always thought provoking, the two brothers have, in this marvelous album, become mature, seasoned performers, The longing for and glorification of two boys growing up on a marginal farm has been replaced by new perspectives showing their maturity as men and as performers as they move into middle age, It’s filled with reflective songs accompanied by their always heart-grabbing harmonies and musical excellence,

Grounded in reflection and based on the rich Gibson Brothers harmonies, The Darkest Hour is built upon their long-time well-recognized musical excellence, and honed clean and pure by Jerry Douglass’ excellent production, featuring some of Nashville’s brightest lights (Euen McGlocklin, Barry Bales, Alison Krauss), the recording shines like a diamond!

Leigh’s song “One Minute of You: A Song for Annie Gray” is a love song from a father to his daughter, filled with the desire a parent feels to cling to every minute of a child’s growth, knowing the letting go is, in the end, necessary. Eric wrote “I Go Driving” to capture the power of driving alone in the country to regain perspective and recapture the lost beauty of the farmland he grew up in, from the perspective of a lost era. The song is simply heart-rending. The Gibson Brothers manage to capture the richness of a lost past without the maudlin sentimentality found in many other contemporary bluegrass songs. Meanwhile, their music continues to be forward looking and optimistic. 

Simultaneously a bit darker than their earlier work, their natural effervescence and optimism still shines through - courageous and  confident. It’s like reading a novel instead of a book of short stories. The Adirondack songs, written over a period of twenty-five or so years and never collected in a single album, remain grounded in reflection  (The Barn Song, Song of Yesterday, Iron and Diamonds, Safe Passage, Railroad Line), yearning for a lost world. The Darkest Hour, chosen from previously never released songs and several of brand new ones, provides a sense of structure as well reflections on living a meaningful life. This newest recording by The Gibson Brothers continues their record of releasing exciting meaningful bluegrass collections.