Despite coming from the small Appalachian town of Castlewood, Virginia, Isaac Gibson and the musical misfits comprising country soul spinners 49 Winchester have always had big dreams. The group looks to reach those lofty goals on Fortune Favors The Bold, their fourth studio album and first with New West Records out May 13.
"[New West] really gave us the reins to make the kind of record that we wanted to make," Gibson tells Wide Open Country. "That's one of the many reasons why we love them. They're a very artist-centric label. It's all about maintaining the integrity of each individual artist and allowing them to create freely, and we were able to do just that."
The new album contains vignettes from Gibson on the trials, tribulations and joys of rural living and life on the road. The two ways of life couldn't be any more different from one another, but both contribute equally to the band's persona, style and collective sound that has quickly become the heartbeat of music in Southwest Virginia.
At the center of this adoration is the song "Russell County Line," a heartfelt love letter by Gibson to his native Russell County, Virginia and the natural beauty within it. According to Gibson, the song has quickly developed a devout following in their corner of Virginia, instilling a sense of pride in place for the locals who call it home. In the song Gibson goes on to describe how when he's on the road, no matter where, his heart is always back in Virginia on the Russell County Line.
"And if you wonder where my heart is when I'm out on the road
It's right at home, I left it honey just for you to hold
And if you wonder how I'm doing, know that I am doing fine
But I wish I was in Virginia on the Russell County line."
On the flipside, Gibson and company enjoy being road dogs just as much as they do being couch potatoes back home in Virginia. The band highlights this dichotomy on "All I Need," a country rock banger about the joys of life in a van hopping from town to town even though they're "packed into this van like sardines inside a can" with some pretty good pickers, most of whom don't snore and are quiet as a mouse as they sleep. The look at a day in the life of 49 Winchester illustrates some of the complexities and not so glamorous aspects of touring, like being packed into a small van, while at the same time pointing out that "I love home, but the road's got all I need."
"Being on the road is a difficult way to make a living," says Gibson. It's hard to be away from family and without a home base. However, as much as you miss things about home, you're just as comfortable and at home singing music in front of a new crowd every night as you are in your own living room."
Ultimately, no matter where they are on the road the band is just a bunch of country boys at heart. They further touch on this side of their lives on "Hillbilly Daydream"--a song about getting by by running moonshine--and "Man's Best Friend," a song delving into the relationship between alcohol and religion.
"It's a common thread for a lot of people who grew up in the Bible Belt like us," says Gibson. "There's long been a power struggle between people's faith and people's ability to resist temptation and alcohol has been at the center of a lot of it, especially in country music. I've lost count of how many tear in your beer songs I've heard in my life."
Gibson likens the song to Tyler Childers' 2011 album Bottles & Bibles due to how both tackle the push-and-pull between right and wrong, all with an Appalachian flavor. However, Gibson opts for a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the struggle on "Man's Best Friend," singing:
"The best friend that a man could have is Jesus
And the worst one he could have is named Jim Beam
One of them just makes me as mean as a scrappin' snake
And the other one washes my spirit clean."
At the end of the day, the members of 49 Winchester are all just human, conquering their vices day-by-day as they work on building a career for themselves brick-by-brick. In much the same way that his ancestors slowly built up their home of Castlewood, Gibson and crew are taking a similar approach to their music careers, building it up piece-by-piece on their own terms.
This approach is documented on the album's titled track, "Fortune Favors The Bold." The song touches on the band members' long-established friendships from before 49 Winchester was even a thought and how the band has had success by going out and finding it rather than waiting for it to come to them. Gibson documents this approach, singing:
"I could sit here on my couch all day
Wish my whole damn life away
Or I could get up off my ass and grab the bull by the horns
Still young enough and dumb enough to grow up fast
But I'll save that part for last
I'm gonna take every chance I can for this rock n roll
Fortune favors the bold."
"We're trying to be as proactive and bold with this as we can, taking every opportunity and maximizing every day that we have together as a band," says Gibson. "We don't have an offseason. We're after this relentlessly and have been for a long time. I credit it as being instrumental in keeping us together because we're all such good friends off the stage. There's no other group of guys that I'd rather be living this dream with. I can't wait to see what the future holds."
49 Winchester will celebrate the release of Fortune Favors The Bold with a free album release show at the Sessions Hotel in Bristol, Tennessee, on May 13 with support from Eastern Kentucky singer-songwriter Nicholas Jamerson.
READ MORE: Ian Noe Paints Portraits of Eastern Kentucky's Highs and Lows on 'River Fools & Mountain Saints'
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