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The Gibson Brothers
Red Letter Day

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Sugarhill Records SUG-CD-4002 

 

  Not a lot of bluegrass musicians hail from New York.  There's Dr. Banjo, Peter Wernick, and Mr. Mandolin, David Grisman, but after that the list gets mighty short. The Gibson Brothers are also New York Natives, upper New York State to be precise. Together they create their very own hotbed of bluegrass.

Red Letter Day marks the Gibson Brothers' third Sugarhill release in as many years. Two originals by Eric Gibson and three by Leigh Gibson join tunes by a wide variety of other songwriters including Don Gibson, Kieran Kane, Bruce Robison, Chris Knight, Mark Howard, Ray Charles, and Bobby Womack. The Womack song "It's All Over Now" is best-known as a hit for the then up and coming British band called the Rolling Stones. Converting R&B and Rock and Roll to a bluegrass genre is nothing new. Some novelty act, whose name escapes me right now, specialized in converting rap and souls tunes into bluegrass. The Gibson Brothers' explorations of other genres such as Ray Charles' "I've Got a Woman" don't sound like throwaway jests, but instead have the same level of authenticity as the brothers' original songs.

At the time Red Letter Day was made The Gibson Brothers' band was going through some personnel changes. Fiddle player Clayton Campbell, whose previous gig was with Adrienne Young's Little Sadie band, and mandolinist Rick Hayes joined The Gibson Brothers just after the recording session dates. For the session itself the Gibson Brothers brought in Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Jason Carter on fiddle, both from the Del McCoury band, along with percussionist Sam Zucchini, steel guitarist Russ Pahl, Josh Williams and Marc MacGlashan on other mandolin parts, and Andrea Zonn on vocals. Long-time bass player Mike Barber, served double duty on both bass and as co-producer.

On Red Letter Day Eric Gibson plays all the banjo parts as well as some guitar, while Leigh plays strictly guitar. Their vocal styles draw on the dual lead vocal traditions pioneered by the Delmore Brothers, but with a unique twist. Born within a year of each other up near the Canadian border, their voices have distinct Canadian inflections reminiscent of the great vocalist Ian Tyson of the pioneering folk duo Ian and Sylvia. What is a Canadian singing style? Listen to both Tyson and Eric and Leigh Gibson and you'll hear it a straight unadorned style coupled with a precise vocal attack. Perhaps it comes from playing hockey at too early and age? But if you want to hear what great Northeastern bluegrass sounds like Red Letter Day is the place to start.

 

 

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