Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth
Wanamaker Recording Company/Thirty Tigers
Otis Goes Country
If you wondered what Wanamaker’s Otis Gibbs might sound like if he fronted a band, then this is the album for you.
Gibbs song-writing is as sharp and profound as ever and nothing is lost but lots gained with the addition of an extra guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, banjo, pedal-steel and harmonies.
‘Cuzmina,’ which opens the album, starts with a minute and a half fiddle/banjo/guitar hoedown before Gibbs’ trademark growl takes over on a beautiful, if heart-breaking song about a Romanian coalminer’s family trying to get by after his death down the pit; seen through the eyes of his youngest child whom Gibbs met while she was hitch hiking.
Next up is one of the songwriters finest songs; ‘Ghosts of our Fathers’; a deceptively simple song about finally growing up and seeing the world through different eyes. In this case it’s about a lonely neighbor who that Gibbs father occasionally shared a beer with. There’s a remarkable ‘twist to the tale’ as Gibbs unravels the man’s back story and I won’t be the only one who sniffs back a tear at the end.
If he was still alive today I’m sure Johnny Cash would be the first in line to record ‘The Darker Side of Me’ as it has the hallmark of everything that he loved singing about – a stranger comes to town and thinks he’s found solace, but gets cheated out of his pay; and it has a mighty fine banjo lead from start to finish too.
As always I have a favourite song; and in this case it’s one that actually makes me feel guilty about my place in the world. ‘On No Rust on My Spade’ Gibbs talks with barely contained anger about his time spent planting trees to make the world a better place; but as he sings in the chorus – ‘One generation plants the trees/while the other feels the shade.’ Guess which he is and which one I am.
Speaking of Cash, ‘Wrong Side of Gallatin’ and ‘Nancy Barnett’ are both, not only pure Otis Gibbs but have more than a smattering of the original Man in Black about them too.
One of the joys of this album is the brilliant musicianship from the band members, which never overshadows Gibbs voice (not that that was ever likely!) but you just know that songs like ‘With a Gun in My Hand;’ about going hunting with his father, but hating the idea of killing an animal, which closes the show will be just as powerful sung solo in concert.
Thomm Jutz’ production alongside Otis himself manages to combine the singer’s raw honesty in words and presentation with a tight backing from Mark Fain, Justin Moses, Fats Kaplin, Paul Griffith and Gibbs partner Amy Lashley that manages to make him sound as Country as a cowboy in a Nashville honkytonk without ever compromising his Folk roots; which is quite an achievement.