January 27, 2011

New Gibson Brothers album offers uplifting sound

Features Editor

BRAINARDSVILLE — When the mercury dropped, dropped, dropped to 26 below here, the arctic freeze grabbed hold of the hot-water pipe in Eric Gibson's kitchen.

Tuesday morning, he waited for his brother-in-law Andre Secore to come repair the damage.

And so "Help My Brother" has its applications in the day-to-day; it's also the newest album (and title track) cut by Eric and brother, Leigh, the Gibson Brothers, due out Feb. 22.

The title gives tribute to the early bluegrass brother duos, with covers of tunes by Jim & Jesse ("I'll Love Nobody But You") and the Louvin Brothers ("He Can Be Found").

The album, recorded in Nashville by Compass Records, also highlights the very existence of the Brainardsville duo, for not many brother pairs sing and play bluegrass today.

"We're trying to add something fresh," Eric said, "a little twist to the brother duet."


Coming off a stellar year that included five nominations and two awards — Song of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year — from the International Bluegrass Association for their most recent album and its title track, "Ring the Bell," the Gibsons are reaping the rewards of many years of hard work and their growing recognition in the bluegrass world. Lending voices to "Help My Brother" are Ricky Skaggs ("Singing as We Rise") and, on "Talk to Me," Claire Lynch, the Bluegrass Association's Female Vocalist of the Year.

The Gibsons had asked her well before she won that award to contribute to the album.

"We've loved her singing for a long time," Eric said.

Alison Brown, who with husband, Garry, owns Compass Records, gives texture to "Talk to Me" on her all-wood banjo.

"I wanted something a little bit different," said Eric, who relinquished the banjo role to her for that number. "You want to have different flavors as the songs (on the album) go along, different tones and moods."

That song, Eric said, is one Leigh had written then forgotten. It turned up on a CD with others the Gibsons had played, just jamming about a decade ago with friend and mentor Dick Decosse.

"It's a departure from the rest of the record," Eric said, "not even close to bluegrass."


The Gibsons wrote or co-wrote seven tracks for "Help My Brother."

"I keep saying the next one we'll write everything," Eric said. "Got close this time."

He penned "Dixie," a song named for the woman Elvis Presley was engaged to when he hit the big time.

"I just wondered if (years later) he wished he could go back to Dixie," Eric said, "to a simpler time."

He also wrote "Frozen in Time." Leigh penned the title track as well as "Safe Passage," about the Gibson ancestors who took the perilous journey from Scotland to the New World.

Eric's as enthusiastic about the tunes written by others.

"You can get in a battle with your ego sometimes," he said, "but when you hear a cool song and it's better than yours, well …"

Case in point? "Ring the Bell" by Joe Newberry. The new album includes another one he wrote, "Singing as We Rise."

"Walking West to Memphis" is by Chris Henry, a friend who also plays some dobro on the album.

"I think it's one of the best things we've ever cut," Eric said. "I can't wait for people to hear it."

Grammy winner Tim O'Brien, a Gibson hero, co-wrote "Want Versus Need" with Eric and Leigh. That song came to identify an overall message conveyed by the album.

"We didn't start out with a theme in mind," Eric said. "But it seems a lot of the songs have something to do with that 'want versus need' concept. Maybe that was on our minds — the simple things, the important things.

"I think it's an uplifting record."


Bluegrass, by tradition, leans more toward the darker side of life.

"There are enough of those songs already," Eric said.

Just one on "Help My Brother," "One Car Funeral" by Eric, Leigh and Jon Weinberger, fits the bill for those who might want to wallow for a bit in the depths of sorrow.

The whole Gibson Brothers band recorded the album — Leigh (guitar and vocals with Eric), Clayton Campbell (fiddle), Joe Walsh (mandolin) and Mike Barber, another local boy, on bass.

They play Saturday at Chazy Central Rural School in a show with proceeds benefiting Family Promise of Clinton County.

Coming up? Looks like some exposure on the silver screen. The day after Christmas, Eric and Leigh flew to Nashville to perform a number for a movie soundtrack. They couldn't yet share the details about that project, Eric said.

And then his dogs, Tinker and Baxter, let loose, an untuneful yammering that signaled Andre had arrived to fix the burst pipe.

He and his six brothers, Eric noted, can't play the banjo but can do just about everything else.

In his need, he said, "they have mercy on me."

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