Otis Threading

There’s something deep’n’dark going on under that hat, beard and spectacles, says Martin Longley.

Otis Gibbs
Kitchen Garden Café
July 29th

Otis Gibbs is a stitcher of tales, although some of these might qualify as tall. This troubadour from Indianapolis suburb Wanamaker returned to Birmingham suburb Kings Heath after a two year gap, to serenade an intimate gathering that had nevertheless necessitated the arrangement of a few extra chairs to accommodate a late rush of walk-in punters.

Gibbs shares a similar aura to that of Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family: dry, perverse, rasp-voiced, bushy-bearded and brandishing an acoustic guitar. Under his floppy hat, and behind his spectacles and facial hedge, Gibbs might possibly be an alternative country singer, but there’s just as much folk-blues, gospel and sheer ornery acoustic outsider rock balladry. He spins tragi-comic yarns that prompt blended responses, with most of the weight being taken by his voice, whether sung, intoned or simply talking, all of which possess varying degrees of musicality.

An American ex-tree planter on an extended tour, he’s one of those visitors who is keen to delve deep into his traversed culture, making pointed observations about English existence, and checking out whether these are translatable to his homeland ways. He stayed in a good hotel for once, he quips, and the towels were so fluffed and thick that he could barely close his suitcase.

A deep rasp delivers cutting humour and the Gibbs lines are so full of substance that it’s a challenge to grasp their meaning and consequences whilst simultaneously treating them as a song. His ditties demand a few more airings, so it’s almost advised that any potential audience prime themselves before the gig. It’s preferable to have a surplus when absorbing, rather than the insufficient matter common to many singer-songwriters.

Caroline wove a particularly vivid tale of a kind of romanticised abuse, and “he Darker Side Of Me narrated another deeply-etched story. The Gibbs guitar style is quite basic, with most of the action happening on the vocal front, but this doesn’t mean that he avoids inserting unexpected string-figures at strategic moments, little atonal runs that leap out when the listener might be getting complacent.