“We’re going to slow things down,” said guitarist Leigh Gibson on Saturday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. No kidding: the Gibson Brothers – banjoist brother Eric Gibson with Mike Barber, bass; Clayton Campbell, fiddle; and Jesse Brock, mandolin – had just ripped through the Stanley Brothers’ “Long Journey Home” at NASCAR speed. Slowing, they dove deep into family history with their own “Safe Passage,” scanning six generations of Adirondack farmers.
Sandwiched between The Band’s spunky “Ophelia” and the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” those two songs early on showed off the Gibson’s pitch-perfect balance of flash with feel, of hot licks with heritage. In their masterly hands, bluegrass burst its hillbilly bonds to become all-purpose music. They chose well among classic tunes: story songs, Gospel praise, lost-love laments and try-to-dance-THIS-fast instrumental rips. Their own songs felt like new classics.
As buttoned-down in their charcoal suits as such old-school southern bands as Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Leigh sporting an FDR fedora, they launched each of two sets at a fast clip. “Long Gone” kick-started the first, a breathless breakdown the second after Leigh Gibson said with mock surprise how pleased he was that so many in the two-thirds-full Hall had stuck around. Friends, family and fans, most boomer age or older, applauded every solo and shouted praise. When a picker got more than one solo in a song, the second was always better.
First major fireworks hit in “Bluegrass Breakdown”: fast, faster, then faster than that, Brock’s mandolin rising to the top. Then they let us catch our breath and recall sad romances in the new waltz “My Quiet Mind.” Reaching back to Jim & Jesse’s “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes” from last year’s tribute to bluegrass brother acts, they also polished their own songs like vintage gems. Skill felt reverent, words often timeless. They lamented the waning of family farms (like where they were raised) and rural simplicity in “Farm of Yesterday” (from “Ring the Bell,” 2009) and the new “In the Ground,” and mourned the uprooting of “Railroad Line.” They also sang of roaming in “Walkin’ West to Memphis” and of bluegrass itself in “They Called it Music” (International Bluegrass Music Association Song of the Year 2013). Leigh sang most leads, Eric harmonizing mostly but owning “They Called it Music.” Mandolinist Brock generally took the flashiest solos, but Eric’s lightning banjo rolls in “She’s Long She’s Tall” amazed. He played often surprising accompaniment when not soloing.
A Music Hall custom, they performed the Monroe Brothers’ gospel classic “I Found the Way” at the stage edge with no mics: just Eric and Leigh Gibson and Jesse Brock, old-school. Another reverent classic, the Louvin Brothers’ “Satan’s Jeweled Crown” closed this spirited, classy evening of deep-rooted, high-flying music.
As it happened, WAMC perfectly bookended the Gibsons’ show. I heard them on a “Prairie Home Companion” re-run as I drove in, and Nick Barr’s “Bluegrass Time” was playing as I drove home. The Gibsons more than held their own.
Reach Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]
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