Otis Gibbs is a bearded and bewhiskered folky agitator, never happier than when singing about the common man, injustice or the environment. He sings from the heart and sounds like a bear might if it carried a guitar and, well, sang, and gargled with honey. The title of this, his sixth album comes from a phrase he heard when working as a tree planter. A 70-year-old co-worker would describe ground that was tough to dig as “harder then hammered hell” and Gibbs has co-opted it to describe his travels and travails and the songs herein.
For a man with a growl of a voice some of the songs here have a tender feel, sweetened by delicate guitar and the vocal harmonies of his partner Amy Lashley. Don’t Worry Kids is a songmap encouraging kids to persevere with the tough journey to adulthood while the love song Second Best breezes by at a fine clip with some fine guitar from Thomm Jutz. Big Whiskers meanwhile is a home spun folky tale of a granddad’s lifetime obsession with catching a giant catfish. With a Johnny Cash styled delivery Gibbs shows a talent for some fine writing with his description of the bait preparation a special delight.
The other songs are more sinewy. Made To Break tells of the toil and desperation that batters down the human spirit while Broke and Restless is a defiant response to those same tribulations that has a wonderful soulful quality akin to early Van Morrison or Dobie Gray. Again the guitar playing of Jutz deserves mention playing some sweet soul licks as he does again on The Land of Maybe where Gibbs dismantles the American Dream. Alongside Jutz on guitar Gibbs is well supported by Mark Fain on bass and Paul Griffith on drums. They shine throughout the album but the group really meshes on Detroit Steel, a rumbling road song that sounds great with the amp switched up.
Overall this is a solid set of songs of the soil, toil and plight of the working man that packs a Southern punch.