June 25, 2014 by Jay Minkin
Otis Gibbs jokes around the house that he has done everything he can to remain obscure without realizing it. He has been hitting the pavement for the last twelve years traveling America and Europe performing original music and garnering fans along the way. It’s true with just about everything that when luck, timing, hard work, and perseverance all converge at the crossroads, something special and magical happens. Well, all those things happened when the mail showed up with a package from Shore Fire Media that contained a copy of Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth, the forthcoming release by Gibbs due to hit record stores on August 19th.
So not sure if was seeing the original artwork by Gibbs in the CD packaging or that Fats Kaplin played pedal steel and fiddle, but something told me to play this on my commute home from work. The self-released record on Wanamaker Recording Company pays homage to his Father with nine original songs and one written by his longtime partner Amy Lashley titled “Wrong Side of Gallatin”. Engineered and co-produced by guitarist Thomm Jutz, the rest of the line-up of players includes Mark Fain on bass, Justin Moses on banjo and fiddle, and Paul Griffith on drums. The album’s title comes from a phrase his father would say about his broken down body from throwing hundred pound bags of starch into boxcars for thirty years in Wanamaker, Indiana just outside of Indianapolis. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree as Otis Gibbs worked several years planting trees, about 7,176 to be exact, as a nurseryman before deciding to follow his dream to Nashville in 2007 and be a full time singer/songwriter. One of the new songs “No Rust on My Spade” talks about the pride of planting all those trees. When Gibbs isn’t playing music or taking Polaroids, he hosts a podcast every Wednesday called Thanks For Giving A Damn that features musicians telling stories from the road.
The opening track, “Cuzmina” begins with a beautiful minute and a half band instrumental before giving way to an A Capella Gibbs singing the first verse, then both band and singer melding as one just takes your breath away. The song is a story about Gibbs traveling abroad in Romania during a snowstorm and hearing a tragic family story from a nine year old hitchhiker. “Ghost of Our Fathers” is another tale from real life as Gibbs expresses how faded memories come back after viewing the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Two of his compositions are interpretations of stories told to Gibbs by hobos called “It Was A Train” and “The Darker Side of Me”. Two of my favorite tracks that should get some radio, jukebox, and mp3 play are “Back In My Day Blues” and “Nancy Barnett” whose grave was to be moved to make way for a new roadway. Of course, the playing by the great Fats Kaplin makes these songs soar. One of the finest instrumentalists in Nashville, Kaplin got his start with Tom Russell and was a member of The Overtones which eventually turned into a trio with Kevin Welch and Kieran Kane. If you check the liner notes of your record collection, you’ve heard him backing many artists, most recently on John Fullbright’s debut album and Jack White’s two solo projects. Kaplin will be touring with White this summer on the Lazaretto tour.
You can add the name Otis Gibbs to the list of new outlaws along with Sturgill Simpson who should be on your radar and part of your music library. After toiling away and paying his dues, Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth is the breakout record that should elevate him to the next level. There isn’t a bad track on the album and the more you spin it, the more you’ll fall in love with it.