Thursday, 21 February 2013

Otis Gibbs - The Musician, Leicester Wednesday 20 February 2013

One of the most gratifying aspects of this evening was witnessing a continued rise in the stock of Otis Gibbs. Having first come across the most culturally esteemed artist to emerge from Wanamaker, Indiana (any rival nominations welcome) at the Big Sessions Festival in Leicester a few years ago, his return to the city on this latest UK visit saw an extremely healthy turnout for a Wednesday evening. As per usual, the humble but equally entertaining Otis gave a consummate performance of storytelling and song delivery in the true folk tradition of a travelling troubadour.

Otis and the infamous peacock from a previous visit
The Musician Pub has to be one of the country’s most supportive venues of American roots music as the citizens of this East Midlands city and nearby visitors are continually spoilt by the high quality transatlantic artists it attracts. They also continue to support emerging UK acts in this style of music and, as a support to Otis, Worcester-based Americana duo Wooden Horse were invited to return and play a short opening slot.

It wasn’t surprising to see Otis significantly feature his latest album release HARDER THAN HAMMERED HELL in his planned set, and although several of these songs will no doubt over time become firm favourites, it does mean an increased number of older classic songs will have to be omitted. However you always have to respect a progressive singer-songwriter to not linger in the past and to continually have an eye of perfecting their craft. Highlights from this newish collection during the evening were the opening song ‘Second Best’, ‘Detroit Steel’ and one of the encore numbers ‘Big Whiskers’. The latter saw Otis amusingly use the assistance of a volunteer to turn over the lyric sheets in order to perfect the live rendition of this word-laden song. The luggage constraints of a wanderlust performer meant the allotted CDs had sold out at a previous show but these and other songs from the album should be a must-have addition to any Otis Gibbs admirer.
Having seen Otis on several occasions over the years, a portion of the stories are often repeated but you never tire of hearing his account of singing classic country songs as a youngster in the company of a drunken relative in the honky tonks and juke joints of Wanamaker. Further recollections of his original hometown (he now resides in Nashville, not surprisingly the Eastern side) often lead into his classic ‘Small Town Saturday Night’ and this evening was no different. Amongst the humour, there was the usual touching tribute to a late best friend who is always remembered in the song ‘Something More’ with the iconic line “only the good die young”.

Two of the many highlights from this immensely enjoyable gig were back to back tracks from 2010’s JOE HILL’S ASHES. On a personal note, ‘Kansas City’ has fast become a set favourite with the line “7 hours in a car, 45 minutes singing in a bar” perfectly summing up the toil of a travelling troubadour. On the evening this was paired with the rootsy and earthy ‘The Town That Killed Kennedy’ where Otis takes you as low as you can possibly go.
Having previously been present when Otis has a sung a duet with both Billy Bragg (Sin City) and Gretchen Peters (Wild Horses), the only other artist interaction in this show was a Hank Williams cover ‘I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow’. Although Otis did name check several similar artists including Mary Gauthier and Sam Baker who have been the subject of his podcasts as well as giving a timely plug for the upcoming visit of his fellow Nashville resident, Tommy Womack.

While each Otis Gibbs visit inevitably sees a song turnover, and on this occasion ‘The People’s Day’ was left out, reassuringly the regular show closer and stunningly beautiful ‘Karluv Most’ stills retains its rightful place of sending old and new fans home entirely satisfied. This was a perfect end to an evening which once again cemented Otis as one of the genre’s most welcome visitors.

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