A group with one foot in acoustic music traditions and another in the more adventurous side of roots music, the Gibson Brothers blend the close harmonies and agile picking of bluegrass with a melodic approach that incorporates elements of contemporary country and classic rock.
A rare example of a successful bluegrass act based on the East Coast, the Gibson Brothers made their live debut in the mid-'80s and by 1998, they had been accepted by the bluegrass establishment, winning the Best Emerging Artist honors at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Awards that year. They showed off their mastery of traditional bluegrass styles on albums like 1997's Spread Your Wings and 1998's Another Night of Waiting, but a more progressive approach and adventurous choices in material on 2006's Red Letter Day and 2013's They Called It Music found them exploring new musical avenues. With 2019's Mockingbird, produced in part by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the Gibson Brothers moved past the strict confines of bluegrass into a fuller sound that was informed by country, R&B, and Southern rock more than acoustic music.
While the name suggests a family band, the Gibson Brothers were initially comprised of members of two different families -- Eric Gibson on banjo and guitar and his brother Leigh Gibson on guitar and vocals, along with the father-and-son team of Junior Barber on resophonic guitar and Mike Barber on acoustic bass. Eric and Leigh grew up in Ellenburg Depot in rural upstate New York, near the Canadian border, where their father made his living as a farmer. They began performing as adolescents, playing gospel instrumentals in the local church, and added vocal harmonies to their act a few years later, performing numbers by artists such as Buck Owens and Jim & Jesse. A musician by the name of Bob Fuller mentored the brothers, introducing them to the music of bluegrass greats like Red Allen, Bill Monroe, and Jimmy Martin. Meanwhile, Junior Barber was a capable musician from nearby Plattsburg, New York who specialized in the Dobro resophonic guitar. In the early '90s, Junior teamed up with Eric and Leigh, and the Dobro player also brought along his son Mike Barber to play bass. The quartet dubbed themselves the Gibson Brothers and were soon playing out regularly in their home state.
In 1994, the Brothers recorded their debut album, Underneath a Harvest Moon, released by the independent label Big Elm Records. The album featured tunes like "Your Man in the Middle," "I Never Was Too Much," and "Tears of Yesterday." A year later, a performance in Owensboro, Kentucky landed them a contract with the bluegrass imprint Hay Holler Records. The Gibson Brothers released Long Forgotten Dream via Hay Holler in 1996. With numbers like "Good as Gold," "Little Man in the Mirror," and "I Don't Know What to Do," the album did well enough to earn a place on the bluegrass charts, as the title song peaked at number ten on the bluegrass singles chart.
In 1998, the album Another Night of Waiting was released, spawning another successful single, "She Paints a Picture," and that same year, the Gibson Brothers were named the IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year. The group next planned to make an album that would ease back on bluegrass and focus on their traditional country influences, with Ricky Skaggs as producer. However, Junior Barber was not happy with the change in direction and left the group; rather than bring in a new Dobro player, the Gibsons added a fiddle player to the mix, Clayton Campbell. After an unsuccessful two-year struggle to find a home for the country album, the Gibson Brothers re-committed themselves to bluegrass, and 2003's Bona Fide was their first effort for the respected bluegrass label Sugar Hill Records. 2004's Long Way Back Home included covers of the Band's "Ophelia," the Louvin Brothers' "Satan's Jeweled Crown," and Gordon Lightfoot's title song. The band released Red Letter Day in 2006, as well as Iron and Diamonds in 2008. In 2009, they released Ring the Bell, the first of a three-album contract with Compass Records; it also marked the debut of Joe Walsh on mandolin, who rounded the band out to a quintet. Their next effort was Help My Brother in 2011, with a guest cameo by Claire Lynch, and 2013's They Called It Music blended original songs and bluegrass standards in what was becoming a trademark for the group.
The Gibson Brothers issued Brotherhood in early 2015; it was their first all-covers record, and featured songs by classic sibling groups such as the Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers, the York Brothers, and the Blue Sky Boys. It was their debut offering for the Rounder label, and also introduced mandolin player Jesse Brock, who replaced Joe Walsh. In the Ground, their second album for Rounder, arrived in the spring of 2017, and included a guest appearance from Blue Highway Dobro picker Rob Ickes. With 2018's Mockingbird, the Gibson Brothers made their most dramatic musical transition to date. The album was produced by Dan Auerbach and David R. "Fergie" Ferguson (who engineered Johnny Cash's celebrated American Recordings albums), and found Eric and Leigh Gibson backed by a crew of studio musicians for a set that traded acoustic arrangements for a rich sound incorporating elements of classic rock, old-school country, and '70s rock. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi