Having spent four years in an ultimately fruitless effort to make a country album, Leigh and Eric Gibson appear intent on making up for the lost time, releasing their second Sugar Hill bluegrass disc just a year after their debut for the label, Bona Fide.
Actually, the story’s a little more complicated than that, for despite the declaration of loyalty to the genre that opened last year’s album, the Gibsons have broader horizons in view. Raised in upstate New York on bluegrass and country, their affinity for the latter — especially in its alt. variety — is a powerful factor shaping their music, discernible in, among other things, their covers of Kieran Kane (“Mountain Song”), The Band (“Ophelia”) and Gordon Lightfoot (the title track). Originals such as “Dreams That End Like This” and “Any Man In His Right Mind” head even deeper into Americana territory, complete with tasteful percussion and occasional pedal steel.
About half the album consists of bluegrass numbers — originals, mostly — rendered with conviction and strong support from band members Marc MacGlashan (mandolin) and Mike Barber (upright bass) as well as an assortment of guests that includes fiddlers Jason Carter (Del McCoury Band) and Luke Bulla (Wisechild). But without making a big deal about it, Eric (banjo, vocals) and Leigh (guitar, vocals) give short shrift to the expectations of hidebound bluegrassers in favor of pursuing their own distinctive sound.
What’s consistent throughout Long Way Back Home is the Gibsons’ hard-edged vocal duet. Not surprisingly, shared tastes and years of singing together have aligned their phrasing and pronunciation so that they can legitimately claim a place in the now-impoverished tradition of country brother duets. No matter the nature of the material, it’s at once traditional and unique — and a calling-card that they’re smart enough to build an album and a sound around.