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The Gibson Brothers Stay True to Bluegrass Roots in Latest Release


Ten years ago, Eric and Leigh Gibson were one of the hottest new acts in bluegrass. In 1998, The International Bluegrass Music Association named them "Emerging Artists of the Year." The Gibson Brothers changed direction, trying their hand at mainstream country music before returning to their roots in 2004 with a well-received CD, "Bonafide." Two other albums followed. VOA's Katherine Cole reports on the Gibson Brothers latest release, "Iron and Diamonds."

Seven of the 12 tracks on Iron and Diamonds, including the title song, are Gibson Brothers originals. The others come from writers including Roger Miller, Julie Miller (no relation) and Tom Petty.

The cover songs The Gibsons recorded for Iron and Diamonds fit in with their originals so well you might be surprised to learn that it was Steve Earle who wrote "The Other Side of Town," not Eric or Leigh Gibson.

On the surface, Eric and Leigh Gibson seem unlikely candidates for "bluegrass stardom." The brothers were raised not in Kentucky or Virginia, but on a family dairy farm in upstate New York, just a few kilometers from the U.S. border with Canada.

Eric Gibson, older than his brother Leigh by less than a year, and a banjo player since the age of 12, puts "the blame" on his parents for exposing them to the music.

Eric Gibson: "My mom and dad liked all kinds of music. At various times they bought instruments, but never really learned to play them, but had the desire to do so. We listened to a lot of different kinds of music, and I remember listening to bluegrass on Saturday nights, there was a local [radio] program featuring bluegrass. And then when I started playing banjo and Leigh stated playing guitar, well, we were introduced to Flatt and Scruggs by our instructor. And then, we started scoping out the local scene and hearing local bluegrass bands and caught the bug for bluegrass. It gets a hold of you. You see artists all the time who played bluegrass when they were young, and then went off and played other kinds of music. They always come back to it. It's just something that, well, once you start liking bluegrass, and playing bluegrass, I think it gets ahold of you and it never lets go."

Cole: "What is it, do you think, about the music that does that to people?"

Leigh Gibson: "There's an honesty about the music, about the bluegrass that survives through the decades. There is kind of a common thread. I don't think you have to be a rural person, although we were, to relate to that. And to understand longing for home and family and things like that. And, I think maybe the improvisational aspect of the music might attract people. The fact that a mandolin player will jam out for two minutes in the key of B with no capo, it's pretty impressive."

Cole: "So, in other words, you also have to be a good musician to play the music well."

Leigh Gibson: "I think so. To play it well. Certainly the people I respect are great musicians."

In addition to Eric and Leigh, The Gibson Brothers band includes Mike Barber on bass, Clayton Campbell on fiddle, and Rick Hayes on mandolin. The band has a full schedule of upcoming concerts, including appearances at some of the most prestigious festivals in North America.

One of the sweetest sounds in bluegrass music is that of brothers singing harmony. There's plenty of that to enjoy on the new Gibson Brothers release, Iron and Diamonds.

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