Songwriters are often told to write what they know. No surprise, then, that the latest CD from the Gibson Brothers, In The Ground, is packed with songs about the road, the good old days and deep introspection and reflection.
Eric and Leigh have been playing music together since childhood on the upstate New York farm that shaped their lives and has informed their songs since they started recording. And they’ve shared countless miles and hotel rooms as they chased their musical dreams. All of that is reflected here.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking this Rounder Records offering is more of the same. It’s not. The subjects might be familiar, but many of the songs are fresh and powerful. And the music covers a lot of territory, from the bluesy feel of Eric’s Highway, which kicks off the 13-song collection, to the old-time country shuffle echoes of The Stanley Brothers in Leigh’s Look Who’s Crying.
Eric pushes his voice to its upper limits in Highway, which gives this ode to the road a boost. It’s the best of the handful of traveling songs on the CD that suggest the grass just might be greener somewhere down the line. Who among us hasn’t had those thoughts?
To find out, of course, we have to leave behind what’s familiar and step outside our comfort zones. That concept is addressed here, too, as it was in earlier songs recorded by the brothers. Two songs that focus on the search – two of the best three songs on the CD in my subjective judgment – are Leigh’s I Can’t Breathe Deep Yet and Remember Who You Are, which Eric and Leigh wrote together.
In the first, Leigh sings, “Even if I tried, I doubt I could control the restless side of me that’s taken hold.” At another point, he almost apologetically notes, “I’m thankful but unsatisfied.” And so, the search continues.
The second is based on a comment their late father made when Eric was getting ready to leave the farm for college and his own greener pastures: Remember Who You Are. In another era, the words might have been “don’t get above your raising,” but the brothers put it this way:
No matter where you’re going
Whether near or far
When you get there
Remember who you are
The final song among the best is Leigh’s Friend of Mine, which started as a song about an old guitar but morphed into an expression of gratitude to Mike Barber, the band’s bass player who has been on the road with the band for nearly a quarter of a century. Again, Leigh is thinking big thoughts but expressing them in simple, approachable language:
But like everything
Someday we will be gone
Then what remains of us
Will be in song
In addition to Eric’s banjo, Leigh’s guitar and Mike’s bass, the recordings benefit from the expressive fiddling of Clayton Campbell and the drive of Jesse Brock’s mandolin. Guest Rob Ickes adds dobro on some cuts.
This is the first Gibson Brothers’ project in which Eric and Leigh, already with sizeable catalogs of material, wrote or co-wrote all of the songs. Bad news, perhaps, for songwriters not named Gibson, but a welcome development for their legions of faithful fans who have a thing for nostalgia, reflection and the way things used to be. The brothers may have left the farm, but the farm hasn’t left them.