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Otis Gibbs - Harder Than Hammered Hell

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 21 / 4 / 2012

Otis Gibbs - Harder Than Hammered Hell
Label: Wanamaker Recording Company
Format: CD


Original and unique sixth album from Indiana-based country/folk artist and protest singer, Otis Gibbs

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…’Harder Than Hammered Hell’, the sixth album from Gibbs in a decade and the follow-up to 2010’s critically acclaimed ‘Joe Hill’s Ashes’, sounds just like a continuation of that two-year-old album. The fact that over those two years ‘Joe Hill’s Ashes’ has grown into something of a mini-classic means that this new collection of twelve Gibbs originals is destined for the same status. Gibbs is most known for his political songs, but like Michael Weston-King and Billy Bragg there has always been a romantic side to his work. While Gibbs' songs tackling social issues have and will always be a talking point, it’s unfair not to give his more personal work a little more praise. ‘When I was Young’ from ‘Joe Hill’s Ashes’ still brings a lump to the throat and there are songs on this new album that have the same effect. Gibbs opens the album with ‘Never Enough’, and that warm growl instantly engulfs you as Gibbs' lyrics inspire you not to give up even when you feel you’ve given all you can yet are still getting kicked. Also on the first track you realize that by keeping the services of Thomm Jutz on guitar (he also engineered the album which Gibbs self-produced superbly), Gibbs understands that Jutz brings so much to his songs. The following song, ‘Made to Break’, is in the same mould, lyrically more hard-hitting than the opening song but still showing optimism. There’s some excellent guitar work from Jutz on this cut, with just the addition of Mark Fain on bass and Paul Griffith on drums. Jutz and Gibbs have created a curiously full sound and one that is uniquely their own. But it’s on the third song that Gibbs delivers what we have been waiting for. ‘Broke and Restless’, although dealing with a similar theme as the first two songs, the struggle of the working man, is the first song on ‘Harder Than Hammered Hell’ to feature backing vocals from Gibbs' partner Amy Lashley. With one of his own best vocal performances on this song when Amy joins in something magical happens. Maybe it’s Amy’s soothing vocals offsetting Gibbs grizzly contributions but if ever two voices were meant to sing together it’s those of Amy Lashley and Otis Gibbs. The combination of Gibbs, Lashley and Jutz is truly magical. It’s one of those things that can’t be explained, but when those three put their musical talents together the world stops turning and nothing else matters. ‘Don’t Worry Kid’ will register with anyone who has ever felt alone or that they didn’t fit in. This is one of those songs where Gibbs gives hope to those who feel alienated. There’s a tenderness to those gruff vocals that just somehow makes you believe every word he sings. While this is an Otis Gibbs album and not the eagerly awaited Amy Lashley second album we hope is going to appear someday soon, mention again must be made of Amy’s vocals on this song, again achieving the perfect balance to Gibbs' tender growl. It could well be that Jutz also contributes backing vocals here too. That chorus is so comforting with those outstanding vocals it really does deserve to be heard. ‘Big Whiskers’ recalls one of those Johnny Cash fun songs. It’s the only co-write on the album (Adam Carroll helped Gibbs finish the song) and was inspired by the capture of a flathead catfish in 1966 out of White River which is located by Gibbs’ childhood home and where Gibbs fished regularly. Coming nearly halfway through the album, it’s perfectly placed and quite a surprise on first listen. ‘The Land of Maybe’ is the type of song you feel Bruce Springsteen wishes he could still write and from which the title of the album is taken. While planting trees in Indiana, Gibbs worked alongside a seventy-year-old man who described any ground that was too hard to dig as “harder than hammered hell." He also applied the phrase to difficult jobs or people. It neatly fits in with this latest batch of songs. With his sixth album, Gibbs has once again shown that he has little regard for current fads and that he is still walking his own path picking up new fans wherever he plays. His country/folk songs will appeal to many looking for that extra edge to their music, Gibbs melodies are instantly accessible and with the musicians and vocalists he has chosen to bring his tales to life at the end of ‘Harder Than Hammered Hell’ you are, as usual after listening to an Otis Gibbs album, left wanting more of the same.

Track Listing:-
1 Never Enough
2 Made to Break
3 Broke and Restless
4 Don't Worry Kid
5 Big Whiskers
6 Christ Number Three
7 The Land of Maybe
8 Detroit Steel
9 Dear Misery
10 Second Best
11 Blues for Mackensie

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