The surfeit of bluegrass-flavored Grateful Dead-ish bands over the last 10 or 15 years has virtually insured that not a single one of them has an original sound. Sure, acts like Phish thrived in that arena, but they could also play Pink Floyd’s The Wall from end to end–the jangly mandolin sound was only a part of their repertoire.The Emma Gibbs Band are most likely a great group of guys and certainly decent musicians (in particular, Georgia fiddler David Blackmon, who guest stars on the disc and sometimes joins the band for live dates), but their sound is so utterly derivative that you could slap any number of bands’ names (for instance: Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic–you get the drift) on this album and no one would know the difference.
There is an earnest emotion behind this music, but it’s sort of like giving a 17-year-old white kid in braces a brand new Fender Strat and asking him to play songs by Blind Boy Fuller. No matter how hard he tries or how long he plays or how many years of tough going he endures, he’s never going to equal that genuine sentiment that comes from authentically living the blues. Sadly, the best song on the record is Track 9, “Interlude,” which is just that: a 65-second ditty that fades out far too quickly. The Emma Gibbs band is well-received throughout the Southeast and plays to packed houses in certain cities on their circuit, and perhaps that’s where their music is best taken in. And as long as boarding schools throughout the Southeast continue to produce preppy Deadheads, they’ll have steady crowds at their shows.