Susan Gibson is prepping for the release of a new full-length studio album. It’s called The Hard Stuff and it drops on October 4th. But first, for those not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.
Minnesota-born is a Texas-based singer-songwriter and musician. Her rockin’ resume includes six solo albums. She was the lead singer for the alt-country band, The Groobees and also wrote the Dixie Chicks hit song “Wide Open Spaces.” She tours all over the country.
Gibson’s signature sound is a fluid blend of multiple musical genres including Alternative-country, Americana, country, and folk. This upcoming audio offering even throws in elements of funk, jazz, and pop.
The Hard Stuff
The Hard Stuff is an album long overdue. While she did not stop performing live, personal tragedies kept her out of the recording studio for some time. Indeed, this is her first full-length release since she put out Tight Rope in 2011.
Track by track
On this album, Gibson leads the way on (acoustic guitar and vocals). She’s backed by other artists along the way including Fred Mandujano (drums and percussion), and Z Lynch (bass).
The all-original, 11-track disc opens on “Imaginary Lines.” Co-composed with Jama Pochop and Michael Schwartz this power-chord injected track is an exhilarating, noteworthy number. Noelle Hampton and Pochop provide background vocals.
The second selection is “Antiques.” This cut concerns aging, respecting one’s elders, and how to properly handle growing old. Mark Hallman appears on Hammond B3 and background vocals Hampton encores as well.
“Hard Stuff”, like most of the material here, was inspired by something Gibson found within herself. In this case, it is a personal perspective of her response to uncertainty and fear. She might run away but she bounces back and turns even the negative into something positive as witnessed by much of this project. This standout fun song, complete with a pop culture reference or two, features Kevin Flatt on trumpet, Tony Bray on tenor saxophone, and Hallman on B3.
The next number is “Lookin’ For A Fight.” It’s a cautionary cut with a nice bridge. It also includes Mandujano on “kitchen chairs and cookie sheets” and Pochop again adds background vocals.
“The Big Game” is a fun, clever cut about desire and frustration complete with more pop culture references. It’s a tuneful teaser that poses the question: “Why ya gotta make it so hard for me to be easy?” Gibson trades in her acoustic guitar for an electric guitar and producer Andre Moran (electric and acoustic guitars, Wurlitzer, piano, organ, synths, vibes, and clarinet) fleshes out what earns the honor of “Critic’s Choice” here.
The honest and no holds barred “Diagnostic Heart” follows here. It includes effective extended musical metaphors but is perhaps overshadowed by the previous piece. Still, it’s pretty and has its own identity.
Speaking of ID, “2 Fake IDs” tells a story that is both unique and yet in a larger sense familiar to anyone who couldn’t wait to grow up and went looking for trouble with a friend and found it. It comes complete with Brian Douglas Phillips on pedal steel and Hampton providing background vocals.
“Hurricane” is one of the disc’s reputed “focus tracks.” It contains some power chords and steady vocals that make this one a travelin’ tune worthy of a soundtrack. Hampton appears again on background vocals.
The empowering “Wildflowers In The Weeds” follows. It’s essentially an effective, empathetic portrait of Terri Hendrix, a fellow artistic kindred spirit. Still, a careful listener might say that Gibson seems to see something of herself reflected in Hendrix. She sees similarities despite the difference in their approach to their careers. The quiet arrangement while surprising is perfect in that it helps to emphasize the details in the lyrics, Hampton provides background vocals.
Gibson plays banjo on the closing cut “8 x 10.” Here she addresses the issue of missing her late mother. No doubt the creation of this song was therapeutic and her mother would have wanted her to go on with her career. Marian Brackney is featured here on fiddle and background vocals. Moran adds the bass. Mom would no doubt be touched.
Overall, the album is a compilation of songs that reflect her reactions to her personal life experiences since the previous platter hit the record racks. It’s not so much about surrendering as it is about surviving. Her openness and sincerity might make this her best stuff yet. So check out Susan Gibson’s latest release and enjoy some of “The Hard Stuff.”