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Album review: Otis Gibbs' 'Grandpa Walked a Picketline'

January 12, 2009 |  6:25 pm

Otis_gibbs240 Otis Gibbs is an old-school troubadour out of Wanamaker, Ind., who sounds only too happy to pick up the mantle of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger in championing the working stiff and blue-collar America in song. On "Grandpa Walked a Picketline," due Jan. 20, he sings of everyday folks, not always the desperate or destitute, but the overlooked and underappreciated.

"Calling out tonight to anyone who's tired of being down," he writes in "To Anyone," echoing Guthrie's famous line about hating a song that makes you feel no good, or born to lose.

"Caroline" follows a woman much like the matriarch in Dolly Parton's "To Daddy," who leaves her family behind when she lights out in search of fulfillment after a lifetime of neglect. Gibbs gets impressively Dylanesque in "Preacher Steve," about a charlatan who uses religion rather than snake oil to fleece his flock: "Preacher Steve could walk on water while the whole world's dying of thirst."

Gibbs brings his characters to life with a vocal growl that sounds just one pack of Camels shy of Tom Waits, and he's assisted ably by a team of roots-music veterans, including bassist Don Dixon, steel guitarist-Dobro ace Al Perkins, mandolinist Tim Easton and producer Chris Stamey.

There couldn't be a better time for a voice this insightfully compassionate.

Otis Gibbs
"Grandpa Walked a Picketline"
* * * (three stars)

-Randy Lewis