McNamara & Neeley,
About Time
(Folk Era, 2009)

Except among those with long memories, Bob Gibson (1931-1996) is a forgotten figure in mid-20th-century popular music. If not for substance-abuse problems that short-circuited his career just as the folk revival was about to be launched, however, he might have been a star of its more commercial end. Certainly, he was a significant influence on the folk-pop groups of the early 1960s. Gordon Lightfoot has cited him as a model. As one listens to Gibson now, though, it's hard to think of his style as "folk music" except by the broadest imaginable definition. He was an innovative guitarist and, for his time, an ambitious songwriter, but today his approach feels pretty dated. Mostly, he's recalled by serious Joan Baez fans as the man who discovered her.

When I lived in Chicago in the 1970s and '80s, I would see Gibson, a fellow Chicagoan, on occasion. I tended, fairly or unfairly, to view him as a figure of more historical than musical interest. I also observed that some performers on the local folk scene, even two or three decades after Gibson's prime, sounded like acolytes.

The female-male duo Chris McNamara & Rick Neeley, who live in suburban Chicago, are veterans of that scene. They bring Gibson to mind, as any knowledgeable listener will notice the moment Neeley's booming 12-string introduces About Time's first cut, his own composition "Love's Been a Long Time." Thirteen cuts follow, one a song ("All Night Long") Gibson wrote with frequent collaborator Shel Silverstein and another (the title tune) written by Gibson's occasional performing partner Hamilton Camp. There is also a Lightfoot song ("Shadows"). There are lots of soaring harmonies.

There are also originals, composed separately, and covers by John Stewart ("Night of a Distant Star"), Nanci Griffith & Tom Russell ("Outbound Plane"), Roderick Taylor ("Mr. Radio," once recorded by Linda Ronstadt and surely the most appealing choice here) and a couple of traditionals, one of them in Gibson's arrangement. The only truly unpalatable piece is Mike Batt's insanely sappy "Nine Million Bicycles."

With the exception of the just-cited, all of this is pleasantly and competently executed, if your taste runs to music intended to go down easily and leave no aftertaste. If your tastes are more demanding, which they are likely to be if you're immersed in folk music by stricter definition, this probably isn't for you.

review by
Jerome Clark

20 March 2010

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