If you thought that the days of rambling folk artists akin to Woody Guthrie, Jack Elliott or Bob Dylan were as dead as the American dream they we’re out searching for, then Otis Gibbs may be the man to prove you wrong.
However, for Gibbs to truly earn the title of a modern day troubadour he’d have to tick a few boxes, so let’s see, lived out of a guitar case? Check, bummed across the States with hardly a single cent to his name? Check, a regular performer at most bars and living rooms? Check – he’s even written his fair share of protest songs, although in true troubadour style, he’d probably disagree with that term. So far, so good.
Gibbs latest album Joe Hill’s Ashes moves away from the anti-war undertones which so heavily influenced his previous record, the critically well received One Day Our Whispers. This time around Gibbs looks at life, from the people who inhabit it, his own personal experiences, all the way through to death and morality. As a result, Joe Hill’s Ashes has a very intimate feel – a collection of personal songs each with their own unique story to tell, told to you by an extremely well travelled story teller.
Each tale is hung upon a distinctly Americana sound, from Cross Country, a fiddle infused, toe tapping depiction of the singer’s longing to escape his small town to My New Mind a track reminiscent of early Dylan, in which Gibbs’ contemplates who he really is, his gentle, often calming guitar sounds are counterbalanced by his distinctively gravelly vocals. Like Springsteen with a sore throat, more often than not Gibbs’ voice is more telling of his personal experiences than the lyrics he chooses to decorate each track. Quite fittingly, Gibbs saves his most personal message for the album’s final track Something More, in which his true feelings on life can be heard: “I’m trying to believe that there’s something more to this world besides keeping score but frankly, I’m losing faith”. Otis Gibbs may have gathered some rich stories during his hard-travelled Alt-folk career but this troubadour is still searching for something more, in the meantime however, Joe Hill’s Ashes doesn’t disappoint.
Buy Joe Hill’s Ashes by Otis Gibbs here.