Album Review: Otis Gibbs – Grandpa Walked a Picket Line

Otis Gibbs is described on his website as a “writer of songs, teller of tales, populist agitator, social dissident, planter of over 7,000 trees, photographer, musician, iconoclast”.  And that ain’t the half of it.  This dude has an FBI file, and he’s not best pleased with the way of things these days.

Grandpa Walked a Picket Line is proper folk music, marked by the good ol’ twang of a country guitar and an honest-to-goodness fiddle.  No one’s likely to miss the nods to the first great depression in both the songs and artwork for this album, which continues Gibbs’ mission to provide “love songs for young radicals”.

The album’s subject matter spans domestic violence, life as a truck driver, and the escapades of a rotten cad called Preacher Steve who’s “got one hand over the bible, and the other’s reaching in your purse”.  He paints everyday life with broad and beautiful brushstrokes, leaving no stone unturned.

In ‘To Anyone’ – Gibbs’s earnest southern drawl sends “An open letter to anyone who feels betrayed” that asks “Is it true you bought everything they sold you?  Believed everything they told you as a fact?  Is it true they turned their backs on creation?  Taught you words like ‘nation’, made you crawl, made you feel small.”

Gibbs writes with stunning simplicity about the alienation inherent in working life’s daily grind in the duet ‘Ain’t Nothing Special’.  In it, he describes coming home from a day’s work, “I saw you in the kitchen, just raising up the blinds/ waiting for some mercy to fall out of the sky”.

This writer of protest songs has produced an observant album which manages, somehow, to infuse social critique with hope and love.  And that’s no small feat.

Words: Helen True

Otis Gibbs is currently on a short tour of the UK.  You can catch him at these venues in the next few months:

15th May Ruby Lounge, Manchester
18th May Twisted Wheel, Glasgow
24th May The Grapes, Sheffield
3rd July   The Borderline, London