Given the Southern tradition of music in the home and the history of family bands in country music, it’s surprising to see the lack of blood relatives in Americana. While there are several groups with spouses and partners making music together, I’ve only come across one band-of-kin in the past couple of years of writing reviews – The Mallett Brothers Band – and they’re based in Maine, of all places. Now, out of Athens, Georgia, comes the Hibbs Family Band with their debut, Tears in Missouri.
The brothers Hibbs, guitarist Rob and bassist Garrett (members of Athens rockers Georgia Dish Boys) have linked up with parents Henry (on fiddle) and Judy (piano) to make music the old fashioned way – strings, vocals, and songs about country livin’, wanderlust and making music. The latter topic kicks off the album – “Living 50 Songs” addresses writing what you know, and how acquiring that knowledge takes its toll: “He’s lookin’ pretty bad/And his songs are all real sad.” There’s a sense that the younger members of the band might look at such a busted-up musician and wonder if it’s all worth it. But, when Mom and Dad chime in later on a gorgeous piano/fiddle/guitar interlude, you hear how much the family truly enjoys their craft.
Hitting the road, for one reason or another, pops up several times on the record. “Just Another Story (That’s Told)” namechecks New Mexico and Colorado as the band layers instrument upon instrument – never showing off, simply serving the song. “Breakin’ the Daylight,” a tale of escape, gets its rhythm from Robert’s jaw harp, contributing to its spiritual feel. And “Pack Up the Sun,” one of several songs highlighting the standout work of cellist Ashley Na, delivers road weariness in a laconic vocal style that recalls Ray Wylie Hubbard – “I am tired of walkin’/Can I borrow your shoes?”
Tears in Missouri was recorded at a local studio (Full Moon in Watkinsville), at The Foundry in Athens, and in the Hibbs’ own living room, and it’s when the material sticks closest to family that the band is at its best. The title cut, introduced with a wistful piano-fiddle duet, recalls visits to a family farm in the Show-Me State – “New sounds come from ancient bones/You finally understand when you’re all grown.” “A Straight Story” references family ties to their Uncle Walter (Straight) and his four siblings, one of whom is 100-year-old Clara, who still lives on that farm in Missouri. (Note: Aunt Clara and Grandma Ruth are/were painters, and a watercolor by Ruth serves as the album’s cover. The art runs deep in this family).
Finally, “Distance and Time” charmingly relates a chance meeting with an old friend. Set against a slow country waltz, the song reminds us that “The ones who matter are the ones who scatter/And stay on your mind.” That sentiment, like the music on this album (solid, never showy), will stay with you.
Tears in Missouri was produced by Rob and Garrett Hibbs and Tyler Key, recorded by Key and Sloan Simpson, mixed by Key and mastered by Joel Hatstat.
Order Tears in Missouri here: https://hibbsfamilyband.bandcamp.com/releases