William F. Gibbs: My Fellow Sophisticates

[6 August 2008]

By Sarah Moore

South Carolina singer/songwriter William F. Gibbs is a little from column A, and a little from column B. His swing-filled jaunts often recall sweaty days spent in a saloon with player pianos. His smaller-scale ballads offer introspective moments in an empty chapel over sacred organ. All the while, Gibbs maintains an adult contemporary finish and a constant look towards the past. At some times whispering and other moments forceful, Gibbs explores characters as different as the music stylings themselves. Throughout, Gibbs provides instrumentation such as acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and mandolin, while various contributors fill out the sound. Producer Holiday Childress adds synthetic textures, while the New South Jazzmen provide their trumpets and trombones. 

The disc begins with an ostensibly chiding tone and moves into a tear-jerking love note. “Darling, You Were Beautiful Once” opens in a crowded dive bar with the aforementioned jaunty piano (by Chuck Lichtenberg) that feels quiet haunted. The hushed notes fade out before a rough tribal beat (by Mike “C.C. Medallion” Allen) shoves a piano-banging soiree into the forefront. Gibbs uses the dichotomy of loud and raucous with soft and surreal to create an effervescent energy. The subject of the song sweats her aging looks more than Gibbs does, as he sings, “You are all that I want / You’re all that I need” in a growing falsetto. Throughout the song, and in many other tracks, there seems to be something altogether different going on in a quiet sector of the song. Light tin percussion and far away big band music seem to fill the softer decibels of the sound space.

The disc flows through junk band Americana (“Come Back to Me (For My Love)”) and steamboat blues with 1940s scat and siren singing (“Here Comes Your Steamboat Brother! Here Comes Your Freightline Sister!”). Sometimes the ballads feel like lulls in the disc and involve great similarities to one another. “Ankle Deep in the Atlantic” brings tears with Gibbs’ drifty vocal harmonies and unabashed honesty. The speaker goes further and further into the ocean crying, but he brings himself back before throwing himself all the way in. “I stand neck deep in the Atlantic and I cry over you”, weeps Gibbs over the delicate instrumentation. The earlier ballad “Oh Pollyanna” brings a resounding organ into the introduction, while the guitar parts sound awfully like “Ankle Deep”. Gibbs wears his sorrow on his sleeve.

Dynamic standout track “Brother John” begins with divine four-part female vocal harmonies that fold into a trotting murder ballad not about death. Impeccable vocal harmonies bring this thrilling track up a notch or two. Gibbs spouts the lyrics as though a decipherable auction caller; a rough and tumble tirade echoes and punctuates in the form of an angry band of men. A second standout, disco-funk “Streetfighter”, takes full advantage of distortion, while Gibbs’s processed vocals are reminiscent of the Chili Peppers’ version of “Love Rollercoaster”. While some of the tracks feel partially redundant, the variety of genres spanned and the skill of executing such a diverse disc both set this disc apart from other singer/songwriters today.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/william-f-gibbs-my-fellow-sophisticates/