The Gibson Brothers,
Bona Fide
(Sugar Hill, 2003)

The Gibson Brothers not only just sing 'em, they write 'em too. Now I know that a lot of bluegrass acts write their own material, but too many songs are cut from the same cloth as their predecessors. Rare is the bluegrass act that actually turns out new songs that have a fresh voice. Some of the hottest acts in bluegrass keep coming out with "original" songs that sound like little more than warmed-over Bill Monroe, but the Gibsons are among those happy few who write songs that make you perk up your ears and murmur that you haven't heard that one before.

Brother Leigh's "The Open Road" is a prime example, a love song about a man and his car ("She's bona fide, she's number one/And we smile through every mile we make, every single one"), and hot on its heels is "Arleigh" by Brother Eric, a song about their grandfather, which begins "If I didn't have laughter I couldn't have lived/My grandfather Arleigh told me as a kid." They're not your usual bluegrass lyrics, and the songs are all the better for it. "Ragged Man" is another fine song, a real psychological chiller, with what we've been wanting to hear from a brother act -- close and gorgeous harmonies. Mandolinist Marc MacGlashan contributes an absolute gem of a mandolin solo. His work is as clean as clear as spring water, and the wonderful Jason Carter matches him on fiddle.

The next two songs go to the roots, with the tragic "Railroad Line" and "That Bluegrass Music," one of the few really good songs about the music itself. "Vern's Guitar" is another song about love of music, a touching one-act play about a man faced with a moral choice. There's some classic harmony singing here as well. We go up-tempo with "Where Nobody Knows My Name" and the sole instrumental, "Shucking the Corn," which shows off Eric Gibson's fine banjo work and more of MacGlashan's blazing mandolin. The instrumental work throughout the CD is superb -- along with those already mentioned, we have Leigh Gibson on guitar, Mike Barber on bass, Luke Bulla on fiddle and Sam Zucchini on bodhran.

Tom T. Hall makes a very brief appearance on his own "Don't Forget the Coffee, Billy Joe." It's a dandy reading of this song, but I could have used a little more harmony (as I could have in a lot of other places, but I'm a sucker for harmony). "Whisper in My Ear" is a fine weeper, and MacGlashan contributes a classic Bill Monroe, ancient tones-style solo. "Norma" is another one-act play, rich with irony and character, and with an ending that's a touch ambiguous.

It was a good idea to put an old song like "Beautiful Brown Eyes" among all the originals so that we could hear some of that good old-fashioned vocal harmony, which the brothers do to perfection. "The Lighthouse" brings sister Erin Gibson to the mic for the lead vocal of a beautiful song, and she acquits herself admirably.

I highly recommend this top-notch bluegrass album. The original songs are splendid, the vocal blend is a real treat and the instrumental work is stunning. These guys are doing everything right, and if they keep producing this caliber of work, people are going to hear it and love it. Give them a listen yourself -- you won't be sorry.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 19 July 2003

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