JOHN HERALD calls his band "an acoustic country music group," the better to suggest both its roots and its reach. That makes sense, given Herald's early-'60s stint as leader of those Northurban bluegrassers, the Greenbriar Boys, and given his more recent penchant for classic country tunes. Red Allen, Stonewall Jackson and Don Gibson are all represented on his new album, "The Real Thing." Equally real are several grassy throwdowns, including Tut Taylor's speedy instrumental "Ruff'n'Ready" and "Ho Honey Ho," and Herald's four originals, the best of which is the rockabilly-flavored "Gimme Some Heat."
Two other threads unite the album: the band's tight-as-a-drum playing and Herald's distinctive high tenor. Dobroist Cyndi Cashdollar and fiddler Caroline Dutton, who have been with Herald for four yers, are both expressive instrumentalists who provide Herald with the best backing he's ever had and seem to inspire both his guitar playing and his sweeping vocals. This is high-energy music.
One would like to say the same for Bob Gibson's output. After all, Gibson was an important figure in both the folk-revival and the singer-songwriter movements of the early '60s. But his new album, "Uptown Saturday Night," moves at such a languid pace that it never becomes involving. The worst offender is "Let the Band Play Dixie," a maudlin Civil War narrative about Lincoln's sense of justice. There's also some silly material, such as the old favorite, "Tequila Sheila," and "Tom Cattin' Time." Gibson's best songs tend to be bittersweet ballads like "Rest of the Night" and "Baby If You Don't Know" (both co-written with Shel Silverstein) and "Looking for the You." But they don't really come to life here. In his best moments, Gibson comes across like one of his admirers, the late Steve Goodman. His sweet clear delivery is still enchanting; if only the messages were more interesting.
JOHN HERALD BAND -- "The Real Thing" (Rooster 126), appearing at the Birchmere on Saturday. BOB GIBSON -- "Uptown Saturday Night" (Hog 005), with Tom Paxton and Anne Hills at the Birchmere on Friday.