Eliza Gilkyson has been a musician since she was a teenager singing on her father, Terry Gilkyson's demos. She moved from Los Angeles to New Mexico in the late 60s, where she raised a family and developed a reputation in the Southwest as a singer and songwriter. She released numerous albums and even spent some time in Europe with Swiss composer/harpist Andreas Vollenweider before releasing "Hard Times in Babylon" on Red House Records in 2000. She followed this with Lost and Found in 2002, then participated in two acclaimed tribute compilations. For a captivating singer who crafts songs with emotional impact and integrity and has been active on the scene for so long, it is amazing that she is not better known.
Gilkyson's voice grabs you right away. It has a slightly raspy quality, sultry and low, fully capable of expressing an ironic mix of hope and despair, passion and world-weariness. She sounds a bit like Lucinda Williams, confident in her lightly drawling lower register. She is comfortable singing on this album with members of her touring band and guests who include, Slaid Cleaves, Iris Dement, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Griffin. The sound hovers between acoustic and electric - in fact bassist Glen Fukunaga switches from acoustic to electric from track to track.
Many songs on Land of Milk and Honey have a sense of political urgency that reflects the atmosphere of 2004 USA. These are not 60s protest anthem's - rather they get down to the individual emotional level of the big story. A shining example of this is Tender Mercies that starts in the Middle East
Hiway 9 is a stealth bomber of a song, gliding in under the radar with some fine slide guitar and dobro, dropping its payload squarely on the Whitehouse. Once they figure out who the "little man," the "neo-cons" and the "white man hidden in a black man's skin" are, Gilkyson's name is likely to be enshrined in a file somewhere.
Wonderland has me wondering what it takes to get a song on pop radio. This song is a blast-it-out-your-car-windows summertime hit. A bar of soaring solo cello leads into the driving backbeat and you're hooked before she even sings. The vocals are in a downright sexy lower register. It's a "love me now" song without a hint of suggestive lyrics (which is probably why it won't be played on the radio). I would recommend purchase of this album even if it only contained the totally cool cello and cittern break of this song.
One song that surely won't get on the radio is Ballad of Yvonne Johnson. It is the brutally true story of a Cree woman who was abused as a child and grew up to commit a horrific crime when she thought her husband was going to take her children from her. Yvonne Johnson actually provided additional lyrics. The song ends with a plea for forgiveness and for the strength to tell her stories to help others "awaken to themselves."Milk and Honey quotes Shakespeare's line "Oh, what fools these mortals be," but when I first heard it I wondered if it was actually a Yeats poem with its mention of gyres and the cyclical nature of human history. It's played like a hymn with Gilkyson accompanying herself on piano, joined by an "anti-choir" on the last verse. It's meditative mood sets up the hopeful Woody Guthrie song Peace Call. Gilkyson trades verses with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Griffin and Iris Dement. I'm not sure whether it's Iris's voice or Woody's ever more urgently needed words, but this one gives me goose bumps every time I hear it.
Land of Milk and Honey is a mature work and masterpiece on many levels, with the added significance of being an important comment on our times. This is surely an album to buy and pass around.
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