Claudia Gibson - The Fields of Chazy



Austin-based singer-songwriter Claudia Gibson’s second album is a travelogue through time and the vast expanse of America, a heady mixture that conjures the ghosts of John Steinbeck and Townes Van Zandt, and yet remains uniquely personal to Claudia and her family’s history. Listening to Claudia’s music is a sonic treat, as stylistically she paints from many different musical brushes. There are elements of both traditional and contemporary folk, classic country, western, gospel, Celtic and Americana musical threads throughout the disc. It’s hard enough for an artist to work through so many genres, but Claudia feels perfectly at home in each of them, because she is. She’s made a place for herself in each one and found herself in each one, and she’s found a way to bring them all together in her home, an impressive feat. Mention should be made of the excellent production work of Walt Wilkins and Ron Flynt to create a varied musical landscape that feels both timeless and current. Working with the cream of the Austin music community, including such stalwarts as Rich Brotherton, Chris Beall, John Chipman, Warren Hood, Mark Epstein, Geoff Queen plus Walt and his wife Tina Mitchell Wilkins on harmonies. 

The common ground on the album is Claudia’s story telling. She has a way of weaving snippets of historical information together to create a bigger image that wraps over, under and around the tales, some of which involve her family members and how they first came to settle in America. Drawing on influences that range from Nanci Griffith to Emmylou Harris, the record demonstrates her ability to fuse sometimes seemingly disparate worlds and write songs that are frequently compelling, sometimes heartbreaking, but always memorable. The opening title song recalls her paternal grandfather, accordion-playing farmer Joseph Thibodeau, who was born and lived his whole life in the North Country hamlet of Chazy in New York state. Floating on dancing acoustic guitar and mandolin runs and Bart De Win’s ethereal accordion, the unhurried pace evokes the act of walking languidly across the fields of Chazy, that is at once capable of drowning you and transporting you, as Joe’s compelling, yet sad story unfurls. On Promised Land, she turns the spotlight on her grandmother, Bessie Axelrod Levitt, who emigrated from Russia with her little sister Lina. The lady with the torch tucks the darkness of alienation to one side as wistful accordion elevates and etherealises with the hope of new life in a different place. Claudia’s delicate vocal tone expresses every ounce of fear and uncertainty in her, unmuddied and pure voice.

Claudia heads back to the Old West for Laura’s Song, based on the life of female outlaw Laura Bullion, the longtime lover of Ben Kirkpatrick, the Tall Texan and fellow member of the infamous Wild Bunch. The haunted, aching steel guitar notes of Geoff Queen swirl into an unforgettable feeling of regret, loneliness and a certain kind of mis-guided pride that this story evokes. The only outside song is the traditional Celtic ballad The Night Visiting Song, on which Claudia is joined by tenor singer Pat Byrne for an exquisite duet with Warren Hood’s fiddle sounding straight out of an old Dublin alehouse. The album closes with Shine On, a simply gorgeous country-gospel waltz filled with spirituality and sensitivity that is quite uplifting. Ultimately, Claudia Gibson ought to be credited with having created an album that succeeds on several levels and can’t be confined to any one era in its timeless quality.

February 2024