The Second Hand opens with an energetic live reading of Susan GIbson’s Top-40 masterpiece, the coming-of-age anthem “Wide Open Spaces.” It’s the song that put her on the songwriting map (and the Dixie Chicks on the path to country mega-stardom), and Gibson indulges her audience by playing the song at every show. Indeed, loyal fans who turn out at every opportunity to catch Susan at a house concert, songwriter circle, or dive bar will find much to love on The Second Hand.
But it’s also fitting that the setlist gets “Wide Open Spaces” out of the way at the start. It’s a great song, but Susan has spent more than a decade crafting great songs that share (and usually exceed) the qualities that made “Spaces” such a hit — authenticity, wit, and themes just about anyone with a heartbeat can relate to. On the album’s title track, Gibson sings that “It’s been a nuclear winter, and I’m ready for the spring.” Like most of her songwriting, the quip works on several levels. Whether eagerly awaiting relief from the endless 2014 polar vortex, or the bone chill of a relationship gone bad, Susan Gibson has a cathartic verse to help thaw your soul.
There’s a lot of music to be heard on The Second Hand, which is as much a career retrospective as a live album; the 17-song disc is a great starting point for the uninitiated. Fortunately, the producers also left a little room for between-song storytelling, which is a big part of the Susan Gibson live draw. Susan has weathered some tough life experiences the past few years, experiences many of us can relate to and look forward to empathizing with in her songwriting. A tune like “Best of You” — inspired by the strength of cancer survivors — stands on its own, but is rendered all the more powerful when Gibson candidly shares the backstory.
Finally, it’s gratifying to hear Susan’s tunes fully realized with an ace pickup band. We imagine singer-songwriters to be lone wolves, and Susan certainly plays her fair share of solo gigs. However, most relish the idea of fronting their own band, if only gigs and income would permit. The Second Hand lineup — featuring Billy Masters on lead guitar, David Carroll on bass, and Ray Rodriguez on drums — complements Gibson superbly throughout, lending sonic dimension while giving the songs plenty of room to breathe. The Second Hand stands among those rare concert recordings that successfully capture the energy and spontaneity of a great live set, though that shouldn’t be surprising coming from an artist who so consistently delivers — gig after gig, song after song.
Check out this post on my No Depression page.