Emma Gibbs Band – Grandmothers of invention
When Emma Gibbs allowed her grandson and his buddies to practice at her house, she probably had no idea they would decide to thank her by naming their band after her. The material they worked on there eventually became Seven Even, their second self-released album, produced by John Keane (Billy Bragg, Bottle Rockets, Vic Chesnutt). The album — its title salutes North Carolina’s Seven-Eleven beer-mart knockoff — is one shy of a twelve-pack of wide-eyed, organically conducted songs that unfold mostly literally, but sometimes metaphorically.
Close your eyes, and the Emma Gibbs Band are old men who have fought, traveled, loved, lost, seen and played in so many places, they’ve all run together. Depending on the song, they’re running from the law, dancing with gypsies by a river, or sailing away on a boat with sails made from bed sheets. After all, “they got no use coverin’ my bed,” sings Will Straughan, the band’s Mississippi-reared, mild-mannered multi-tasker who plays pedal steel, dobro, mandolin and trumpet behind cordial, heartfelt glances.
But open your eyes and the Emma Gibbs Band are the new harvest: unwrinkled, awestruck, and deserving of what’s before them. Richard Upchurch is the fired-up rhythm guitarist who stomps into his harmony parts and plays his acoustic guitar like a soldier running through gunfire with an injured comrade in his arms.
“We like to play obscure covers so that people who are really into music will recognize what they hear,” he says. “We try to do songs like ‘Ophelia’ by The Band, and ‘I Know You Rider’ [a traditional tune and staple of the Grateful Dead’s repertoire], which we’ve thrown a grassy spin on. But whether we’re covering a band we love or writing our own music, we’re connected.”
For intensity’s sake, the Emma Gibbs Band are a rock ‘n’ roll outfit, but they churn authentic bluegrass with strenuous picking intricacies worthy of the most lopsided front porches of Appalachia. They sprinkle their folk numbers with shivering violins and windy acoustic hooks, making certain there’s still rompin’ to do. Inside one song, they can stretch out and come back together, trading scales like relay batons while still holding the tune together.
The band’s court jester, Brent Buckner, can pull from a cigarette and still huff out a jam that John Popper would applaud, while bassist Jeff Remsberg (Mrs. Gibbs’ grandson), drummer Andrew LeVasseur and lead guitarist Drew Cannon steady up the back with wise-beyond-their-years technique. It’s a regular roots-rock cyclone, and still a cheap ticket, for now.