Dave Gibb,
Blood & Flame
(independent, 2005)

Dave Gibb is a Scottish folksinger not much known outside Britain, which is a shame. If this album (not his debut) is any indication, he deserves a wider listenership. Blood & Flame makes for satisfying listening, from "London Town," the opening cut, to "Alright With Me," the last. (What is it, incidentally, with songwriters and their curious conviction that the English language counts in its ranks a word spelled "alright"? Well, all right, so that's the English major in me; want to make something of it? Uh, to continue....)

A solid and engaging guitarist, whether finger-picking or strumming hard to percussive, folk-rock effect, Gibb is also a very capable singer equally at ease with traditional material (e.g., the grand old ballad "Jock O'Hazeldean") and with appealing, tradition-inflected original songs. My own favorite among the latter is "Excise Man," recalling the last sad years of Robert Burns. One thinks of a song with a similar theme, Chris Stuart's "Dear Friends & Gentle Hearts," about Stephen Foster's lonesome death in poverty and obscurity. Societies do not often repay their debts, literal and figurative, to their geniuses.

In a strikingly novel idea for a song, "Gods" evokes the passing of the old nature deities, driven off by an unnamed god whom listeners will recognize as our very own marauding divine imperialist. I know of no other song precisely like it. One supposes that the Incredible String Band might have written something generally comparable, but even that band of polytheistic mystics failed to do so. "Gods" does vaguely recall the late Richard Farina's overripe "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood," which conjures up an Edenic world in some distant, presumably pre-Christian past. Gibb's song, whose outlook is cold and unsentimental, puts forth no such warm and fuzzy speculation. It does suggest, however, that our present god, like the old ones, will have his time and move on, and then "perhaps our gods will wake/ And help protect us all again."

Gibb is the sole player here, though there is enough overdubbing that you'll have to seek out the small print to learn that. What he's doing on Blood & Flame is hardly unprecedented, of course. As a rule British singer-songwriters seem to know their roots better than many of their American equivalents, and thus operate on the principle that two steps forward naturally demand one in the opposite direction. In that regard, Gibb admirably honors traditions both old and new.

by Jerome Clark
29 July 2006

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