CARS HOMES JOBS

Gibson Brothers shun labels

Band wins fans across bluegrass spectrum

Thursday, January 10, 2013
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The Gibson Brothers — from left, Clayton Campbell, Joe Walsh, Leigh Gibson, Eric Gibson and Mike Barber — were recently named “Entertainers of the Year” at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.
The Gibson Brothers — from left, Clayton Campbell, Joe Walsh, Leigh Gibson, Eric Gibson and Mike Barber — were recently named “Entertainers of the Year” at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.

Never mind genre labels like bluegrass, new grass or country — it’s all just music to The Gibson Brothers.

This has been native upstate New Yorkers Eric and Leigh Gibson’s musical philosophy since the two first picked up instruments at the ages of 12 and 11, respectively. Beginning with its 1994 debut album “Underneath a Harvest Moon,” the band — featuring the two brothers, bassist Mike Barber, fiddler Clayton Campbell and mandolinist Joe Walsh — has plied a mix of traditional bluegrass and country sounds with a knack for quirky songwriting that’s just as often heartfelt.

This freedom from genre constraints is also the premise behind the band’s newest song, “They Called it Music,” written by Eric Gibson after he overheard a conversation between his friend Joe Newberry and an older banjo player. The song is slated for the band’s as-yet-untitled 11th studio album, due out in the spring.

The Gibson Brothers, Noam Pikelny and Friends

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

How Much: $24

More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org

“In the bluegrass world, there’s always the question — are you traditional, or are you new grass? Or people say, ‘That’s not bluegrass,’ ” Leigh Gibson said recently while on a break from shows in Nashville (the guitarist and vocalist has lived in the Schenectady area since the late ’90s, and currently resides in Scotia).

Positive response

“The song sort of deals with the fact that it was all just music before there were labels. Was it country? Was it bluegrass? No, it was just music.”

Since debuting the song at the International Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville in September, the band has integrated it into their shows to much positive response. The band performs next at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre on Friday night.

“We were in this record store called Ernest Tubb Record Shop, a fairly famous record store in Nashville,” Leigh said. “One of the ladies in there was telling us that after we played the song [at the IBMAs], they got all kinds of people asking for that title. That tells us the power of it; it’s going to be a pretty good song for us.”

Through the years, the band’s own defiance of easy categorization has earned them fans from all sides of the bluegrass musical spectrum — traditional, new school and otherwise.

“It’s interesting — some of the traditionalist kind of people feel like, ‘Oh, we still have The Gibson Brothers,’ and certain people feel that we’re not traditional,” Leigh said. “We just see ourselves as us — we’re just putting out there what we hear in our heads and feel in our hearts. We’ve never tried to do anything else.”

But “They Called it Music” seems to be appealing to the entire cross section of Gibson Brothers’ fans.

“What we’ve found in the fan base is that those of a traditional mind see it as a song for them, and people who like to color outside of the lines say, ‘Well, you touched on something I feel, too,’ ” Leigh said.

The past few years have been busy ones for the brothers and their band. In 2011, the band’s 10th album, “Help My Brother,” took home Album of the Year at the IBMAs, while the group itself won for Vocal Group of the Year. The band repeated the IBMA success last year with a win for Entertainers of the Year, and spent most of the year on the road touring Europe and the U.S.

Effect of tragedy

There was tragedy in the Gibson camp, too. Last January, Eric and Leigh’s father died. He had been instrumental in initially pushing the brothers in their musical pursuits as kids, and his death made an impact on the band’s songwriting last year for the new album.

“There was a little bit of it in the song we wrote with Shawn Camp; that found its way into that song,” Leigh said. “But personally, every time I seem to want to sit down and write, that’s what comes to mind, and it’s not something that I really want to write about yet. So I didn’t do as much writing this time, and I think that might be part of the reason.”

Songwriting for the new record took place over the course of the past few years. Nashville songwriter Camp, who has contributed to Gibson Brothers albums in the past, co-wrote a number of tunes for the new album this time as well.

The recording came together mostly live in the studio. Not only were the instruments recorded live, but the vocals and harmonies were all overdubbed live with both brothers singing into the same microphone.

“There was a bunch [of vocals] here on the record that we laid down together, rather than, I sing lead and then Eric sings his harmony, or vice versa,” Leigh said. “I think there’s a blend you get — my vocal would bleed into [Eric’s] capsule, as well as his in mine, and the blend you get together as a brother duet — we’ve tried it other ways and we just don’t seem to get that buzz any other way.”

 
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