by Tom Thorpe
Get ready for another groundbreaking project from the Gibson Brothers before you listen to “Ring the Bell.” After I first played the album, I was moved. There was something different, something special about this CD – something that set it apart from previous Gibson Brothers efforts, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Having listened to these songs a few more times now, however, I think I’ve got it. This one is truly a band effort.
Eric and Leigh certainly shine once again with their uncanny song writing and song selection skills, with their memorable brotherly harmonies, and with their command of their instruments. What is so special about the “Ring the Bell” album, though, is how superlative the entire band sounds. They are tight. They support each other and make each song sound terrific. As a performing musician for many years now, I have learned that the true skill of the best pickers out there is their ability to listen to the lyrics of the song, how the singer wants to deliver the words, the feelings being expressed and how their respective instrument can add to the overall sound of the band. The Gibson Brothers’ band does just that on each number included.
The CD opens with “I Know Whose Tears” which is kicked off by a haunting fiddle intro by Clayton Campbell and accentuated by the powerful bass of Mike Barber, who is the son of the legendary dobro player – Junior Barber. Mike’s bass clearly drives the band thru each tune. The result is the creation of that “big” bluegrass sound – full, rich and dynamic.
On “I Can’t Like Myself” we really get a chance to hear the phenomenal banjo picking of Eric Gibson. I recently attended a masters’ banjo workshop at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival with Eric. He was in the company of Bill Keith and Peter Wernick and almost seemed shy and in awe of the other two – “No need, Eric, you can hold your own, son!”
One of my favorite songs on this CD is one called “Angel Dream” on which Joe Walsh provides an unbelievable mandolin cross-picking performance that gives the song a dreamlike quality. Mandolin is one of my best instruments, but I bow to this kid from Maine. Joe can really play with the best in the business. It’s a great tune, with well-crafted lyrics and just shines with the contributions of each of these wonderful musicians.
“Ring the Bell” is the title cut. While it’s not a Gibson Brothers’ original, it fits their style of down home, honest music. Eric’s banjo is again incredible. I believe he picks it in open double C tuning, which gives the song a ‘come on down to church’ quality that will make you say “Amen!”
The smoker on the album is definitely “Jericho,” though, which is an up-tempo traditional sounding bluegrass tune. For those listeners like my wife, who like bluegrass hot – Gibson Brothers demonstrate clearly that they can serve it up that way, too.
My mom and dad’s little farm was in Hartford, New York up there in Washington County, New York. While it wasn’t quite as far north as Eric and Leigh’s home in Malone, we were surrounded by the same small dairy farms they grew up around. I saw firsthand how hard those farmers had to work to survive the difficult Upstate New York winters and make just enough to get by. I watched as sadly one after another farmer sold out because they couldn’t pay their mortgage, keep up with aging equipment and compete with new dairy conglomerates. So, I really appreciated the songs “Farm of Yesterday” and “Bottomland” on this CD. Their lyrics are so powerful and paint a clear picture of those farms and the hardworking, honest people who worked that land, supported their families and carried on their families’ traditions.
“Farm Of Yesterday”
I love the Gibson Brothers’ music, mostly because I can relate to their songs and because I respect their ability to tell stories with emotion and respect for the characters in them. Their brother duet harmonies will stand alongside other great bluegrass brother acts, when their own story is told. I expected much from “Ring the Bell” and once again Eric, Leigh and their superlative band didn’t disappoint.