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Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews

Ain't We Brothers
Sam Gleaves

We say: Gay Appalachian traditional musician ticks minority boxes but has major appeal.

Gleaves from southwest Virginia digs deep into traditional and often obscure Appalachian music alongside some seamlessly authentic originals. Despite being an accomplished scholar with a degree in academic folklore, he delivers these songs like a working class, dirt-fingernail, and soulful singer-songwriter.

The banjo-pickin' title track based on the life of a gay West Virginia coal miner—who did all expected of him in his tough, blue-collar man's world but was derided for his sexuality—is a simple and clear narrative. The words, "Ain't we flesh and blood on through, ain't we brothers too" make their point through eloquent simplicity.

Fiddle-driven songs like the reflective "Just Like Jordan" and the Carter Family's "My Dixie Darlin'" (given an interesting twist) co-exist alongside lively dance tunes ("Froze up/Callahan"), honest accounts of his sexuality ("Two Virginia Boys") and political songs ("Angels in Ashes", a tribute to activists on the frontlines).

A gifted storyteller closer to the James Taylor tradition than perhaps the raw Appalachian folk styles, Gleaves manages a distinctive mark with this impressive, crafted but honest-sounding collection.