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article imageReview: Music for the weekend 1: Otis Gibbs' heartfelt songs Special

By Tim Sandle     May 26, 2017 in Entertainment
Otis Gibbs, the a singer-songwriter in the folk and country tradition, has released a new album independently. Called Mount Renraw it continues Gibbs' fine storytelling tradition: the lives of real people in everyday situations, with wry observations.
Not everyone who should know about Otis Gibbs knows of Otis Gibbs and his music. This review first came across the artist when he supported Billy Bragg on a tour of the U.K. around ten years ago, immediately taken in by Gibbs' ability to capture an audience with strong stories set to good tunes, keeping alive the tradition of songs being about real things that matter to people.
READ MORE: Billy Bragg and Joe Henry bring the songs of the American railroad to life
Gibbs is part of the long-line of literate, politically and socially conscious folk artists., showcasing how songs about everyday life resonate. This doesn't mean the songs are all too-worthy and dry; they are interlaced with wry observation and humor. More so, they are good tunes.
Gibbs new album is called Mount Renraw and Gibbs recorded it, at his home in East Nashville, to mark his 50th birthday. The album is named after the title Gibbs has given to his home.
Otis Gibbs is an American alt-country singer-songwriter and podcaster who has independently released...
Otis Gibbs is an American alt-country singer-songwriter and podcaster who has independently released several albums since 2002.
As with other Gibbs albums the songs are well crafted, mostly strummed acoustic guitar with occasional other musical accompaniment, such as melodic fiddles. These arrangements allow Gibbs' voice to take center stage. Gibbs' voice has a slight gruffness to it, almost a world-weariness, which supports the various tales very well and ensures the listener focuses on what the singer is singing.
One of the stand-out tracks from the new album is called 'Sputnik Monroe'.
Listen to me people,
Let me speak to your Soul,
There’s more to Memphis than Rock & Roll.
The powerful song tells the story of a white wrestler who made a stand against discrimination in the deep south of the U.S. during the 1950s. His part in the civil rights movement was parochial - insisting that black folks and white folks can sit together to watch a wrestling match - but these 'lost tales' were the small steps that led the foundations for social change.
Another enjoyable track, which highlights Gibbs's ability to make pertinent observations is 'Great American Roadside'. Here the singer draws the listener in to hear about places and sights as he travels. What makes the song a great one are unexpected twists that come with travel, not knowing exactly what might be behind the next corner. The unexpected sights recalled are a two headed cow and what could have been the world’s largest ball of twine. This is what Americana is all about.
A second track, '800 miles' continues the travel-log. There's also lovely slices of social realism, as with the comment on entering a diner: "the coffee isn’t as hot as the waitress’" While travel is interesting, it can be lonely too and this comes across as the singer rhythmically takes us along some winding, dusty roads.
Other themes on the album, each poetically told, are lost-love ('Kathleen', 'Lucy Parsons'), economics ('Empire Hole', which describes the export of Indiana’s limestone out of the state), and environmental / political ('Bison', charting the decline of the great animal and the fall of the equally great Cherokee nation).
The full track listing is:
1 Ed's Blues (Survival)
2 Bison
3 Great American Roadside
4 Sputnik Monroe
5 Empire Hole
6 Blues For Diablo
7 800 Miles
8 Copper Colored Fools
9 Kathleen
10 Lucy Parsons
11 Wide Awake
The album rates 5 out 5. To listen to it, it's best to sit somewhere quite. The lone, stripped-down guitar and Gibbs' tales of real-folk will keep you riveted.
This review is the first of two album reviews for the weekend from Digital Journal's London based journalist, selecting two records that have been released in 2017 and which deserve a wider platform. The second is something entirely different, a slice of captivating electronica from Jen Gloeckner. Although in a different musical space to Gibbs' offering, the album was also recorded at the singer's home.
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