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The Gibson Brothers

In the Ground – 2017 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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The family band is a longstanding conceit of bluegrass and mountain music, including the Carters, the Osbornes, the McReynolds, the Whites, The Stanleys and even the progenitors of bluegrass Bill and Charlie Monroe. The trope continues to the present with The Gibson Brothers carrying on this tradition admirably.

The Gibson Brothers, Leigh and Eric, exemplify the power and depth of this music tradition. "In The Ground" cements their position in the bluegrass world. It's a real musical success.

The collection has a feeling of subversive traditionalism. The songs are written in a traditional style, with relatively simple instrumentation. But there is something under the surface that suggests that The Gibson Brothers are onto something bigger than just their own retelling of the bluegrass journey.

"Making Good Time" exemplifies this. It's a rolling picking tune with a Del McCoury-like lead vocal. But in its tight structure, a message of uncertainty and heedless purpose peeks through: "We don't know where we're going. But we sure are making good time."

Leigh Gibson's vocal on "My Quiet Mind" is rich and textured. The band calls upon Rob Ickes' Dobro licks to bring the tune to life (as is the case on many cuts on "In The Ground"), but the song, although simple in structure, displays a darkness in tone. ('Everyone listens to voices sometimes"). "Fools Hill" mines a similar vein: traditional sounds but a bleak view of life.

This is the second release of the Gibson Brothers with their estimable mandolinist Jesse Brock. Whilst not diverting the listener from the smooth musicianship of the actual brothers named Gibson, Brock's tasty licks and counterpoint contribute uniquely to the aural texture of this work. Mike Barber, who has played bass for the band for nearly a quarter century, and fiddler Clayton Campbell enrich "In The Ground" throughout.

The Gibson's métier is bluegrass music, but their gift is harmony. The brothers' ability to match their voices has been a Gibson feature for years, but they are in uniquely fine voice here. And, the harmony is not only sweet, but brave, contending on equal footing with the Everly Brothers on the stirring "Highway" as well as "I Can't Breathe Deep Yet." It's anybody's guess whether there is still a market for an Everly sound, but if there is, The Gibson Brothers are delivering the goods.