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Billy Gibson - DVD: Live at the North Atlantic Blues Festival (2007)
North Atlantic Blues Records

6 songs; 57:16 minutes; Meritable

Style: Harmonica led, four-piece-backing blues band

Did you hear the one about the album reviewer who was mailed a CD to review, but it was blank with nary a song on it so he threw it away? That’s because it is a DVD, not a CD. OOPS! but a true story. To be fair to my friend and fellow writer, the label “DVD” does not appear on the disc itself and appears only once on the whole package (on the back), which has only scant liner notes.

Once in my player, it says “Dolby 5.1” surround sound, but I could only get two channel stereo to come out, which was high quality and sufficiently enjoyable. Subtitles are also not present. The concert was filmed in 2007, but that information is not on the package, only in an accompanying promotion page sent to reviewers. All the package says is “2005 Beale Street Entertainer of the Year,” which refers to Billy Gibson, but that can be misleading as to the performance date.

Well, never mind the package, it is the music we are after when we make a purchase, right? Here is a very enjoyable set filmed in the afternoon “during their first summer tour at the 2007 North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, Maine.” The film crew and editor did a top notch job, and multiple camera angles and shots abound with some split screen effects.

Affectionately know as the “Prince of Beale Street (Memphis),” Gibson throws down one original song (the opening “Down Home”) and five covers across the gig, including Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy,” and Mose Vinson’s “Tell it Like it Is” which becomes a medley with “Oh, Susanna,” Skip To My Lou,” “This Old Man (He Played One),” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

For a harmonica player, Billy is a little stingy with his playing. He shares harp extensively only in the first and last songs with smidgens in the others as he also sings lead vocals. We do get a needlessly-long drum solo mid way through “Bad Boy.”

Gibson prowls the front of the stage and has a great rapport with the audience members (especially the ladies) both down front as well as in the back. He plays some “Name That Tune” in the middle of one song by hitting just a few notes of familiar tunes like “Low Rider” and the theme from “The Flintstones.” Clearly in the groove, Gibson sheds his sports jacket by the third number. Adding to the fun are band members David Bowen – guitar, James Jackson – bass, Cedric Keel – drums, and special guest Charlie Wood – keyboards.

For the show closer, “Polk Salad Annie” Gibson announces, “This is where I play the harmonica as hard as I can and try to make myself pass out, y’all.” Indeed, he does a completely energized, kangaroo jumping, lip shredding performance that eventually has everyone on their feet. The resale value of that particular harp had to be nil following this blowout!

Fresh off April’s Bluzapalooza Tour in Iraq, Billy Gibson first picked up the harmonica at a very young age. “It was cheap and I could easily make sounds with it.” After high school, Gibson’s desire for learning and improving as a musician took him to Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he played with blues guitarist Johnnie Billington and drummer Bobby Little in Billington’s group The Midnighters.

Like many before him, Gibson eventually left Mississippi for Memphis. “Beale Street was my university of blues,” recalls Gibson, referring to the lessons learned as a Beale Street performer. “For a young musician, all you have to do is look and listen and you can learn so much.”

Gibson’s talent and commitment have not gone unrecognized. He received an endorsement from Hohner, his harmonica of choice in 1999. He has made guest appearances on national recording artists’ CDs including Deborah Coleman’s Soft Place To Fall (Blind Pig 2000) and Michael Burks’ I Smell Smoke (Alligator 2003). Around the same time, Gibson received a BA in music from the University of Memphis. He was a 2006 Blues Music Award nominee for Best New Artist Debut.

If you are not familiar with Billy Gibson, this disc is a great introduction to a young dynamo of a performer. Just remember to put it in your DVD player, not the CD slot.

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL

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