49 Winchester | III | (independent )
3.5 out of 5 stars
In many ways, 49 Winchester, the nom de plume of singer/songwriter/guitarist Isaac Gibson, could be considered your stereotypical gruff and gritty homegrown troubadour. Over the course of the past six years, Gibson and his compatriots — Bus Shelton (guitar), Chase Chapin (bass), Dillon Cridlin (drums, percussion) and Noah Patrick (pedal and lap steel) — have made it a point to keep to the basics, be it a blazing combination of drive and defiance, or tears-in-their-beers balladry flush with seething emotion. That’s especially true on the band’s latest outing III, a confident collection that gives voice to the band’s pure, unfettered intents.
“We never really set out to convey any kind of message,” Gibson insists. “We never really set out to sound any particular way. I think all we ever really wanted to convey was a portrait of ourselves to every audience we meet. A bunch of broke-ass kids from central Appalachia that came from nothing with a story to tell. And the only way we know to tell that story to the world is with our songs.”
That lack of pretension is evident throughout the new album, making III their most solid and satisfying effort to date. Asked about the group’s evolution, he offers a brief backstory by way of explanation.
“Early on, Chase, Bus and I started out as a three-piece string band,” he reflects. “We played a lot of stuff that I was into at the time— pre-war blues and ragtime, country blues. Some swampy early rock and roll stuff on top of that. Then we picked up a drummer and a bass player, and we all started sharing what we loved with each other. It was everything from John Prine to Lucero to Parliament Funkadelic to Blind Melon to Led Zeppelin to Bill Monroe to Mississippi John Hurt. We were all from such different musical backgrounds that our sound sort of came into its own right off the bat. To this day, when I meet some Joe Blow off the street that asks me what kind of music we play, it’s a hard thing to put a finger on.”
As Gibson explains, the reason for that lack of a succinct description derives not only from their vast variety of influences, but also from the synergy they share with each other. “Our inspiration really, musically, comes from a lot of places,” he says. “But our inspiration emotionally comes from our location. No matter what happens from here on, we’re still just a bunch of country kids from the middle of nowhere that didn’t go to work in the mines and didn’t join the military and chose to take a stab at playing guitars and drums for a living. It’s a tough row to hoe, but so is everything else we’ve ever done. And we inspire each other at every turn. I can always count on the boys for a good tune to listen to, and for a pick-me-up when the going gets tough. “
That attitude has informed each of their efforts to date – their 2014 eponymous debut, its 2018 follow-up, The Wind, a live EP released earlier this year dubbed Bigtone Sessions, and of course, their latest LP.
“They all have very different sounds but they all stand on their own as timestamps of where we are as young musicians and how our tastes and skill have evolved throughout these years,” Gibson reasons. “I think the biggest difference between those records and this new record is the way that my songwriting has changed since I’ve rekindled my love for country music. That’s the identity we’re morphing into now. A country band with a lot of grit and grime and southern rock attitude behind the sound. I think we’re finally becoming exactly what we were meant to be.”
That spirit is clearly comes through in the resilience and resolve of “Long Hard Life,” the sorrowful “Everlasting Lover,” the snappy down-home designs of “Why Else Would I Call You,” the rousing revelry of “Chemistry,” and, most especially, on the road-weary ballad “The Road Home.”
“The road is a tough place to be a lot of times,” Gibson reflects. “And we aren’t even seasoned veterans yet. But we’ve been doing this for basically a quarter of our lives. Being away from home, and all that needs to be done there is tough. But it’s well worth it to be able to see new faces and places every night, and to be able to be in fellowship on and off stage with my heroes, the men that I admire the most — my bandmates and my Dad. He drives the van and has never missed a show.”
As most bands will attest, there remains the challenge of translating that live energy from the stage to the studio. It’s a scenario that Gibson is quick to acknowledge, and yet, he says that it doesn’t prevent them from succeeding in both situations. “The studio experience is definitely different from a live show, but we treat it the same way,” he insists. “It gets 110% of everything we got, and then some. We’re able to be more meticulous in the studio, but we get the same rush. Even more so, maybe. It’s always good to hunker down on a new recording and be able to take the time to make things sound exactly how they do in your head.”
Gibson goes on to express his satisfaction with how the band’s career has evolved so far, and in listening to him, his enthusiasm becomes evident. “There have been a lot of standout moments thus far, but I think the guys would agree that playing the main stage at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion has been our favorite,” he surmises. “It’s a festival close to our hometown, and I distinctly remember a time when being on that bill at all seemed like a pipe dream because I’d seen so many of my heroes play there. To be on the State Street stage last year was such a cathartic moment for all of us. It was a great validation, and it made us feel like everything we had worked for had payed off. Since then, everything has really taken off for us in a big way.” That said, his vision for the future is fairly straight forward.
“My goal is to keep writing songs that make people feel something,” Gibson muses. “To keep being independent, and making exactly the kind of country, or rock and roll, or blues — or whatever the hell you want to call it — that we want to make. We don’t really talk about goals much, but I think we all agree that the be all and end all of this whole process is to give a piece of ourselves to everybody in that audience every night.”
III from 49 Winchester is available for preorder now on Bandcamp, and will be released to all digital and streaming platforms on Friday, October 2, 2020.