Contemporary folk music would not get the respect and attention it has today without a handful of truly great singer/songwriters like John Gorka. He first caught our attention back in 1990 with a recording called Land of the Bottom Line on the Windham Hill Records label. There was something about that distinctive baritone of his that pulled you in. And there was a great deal of wit mixed in with the wry sadness of the everyday experiences he wrote about. It was almost as if he were telling all of our stories.
Gorka continues to tell those wonderful stories in his new recording, Writing in the Margins. Sure, some of the sad songs are still here, but the tone is more upbeat. And there are two covers mixed in with the Gorka originals - one by Townes Van Zandt and the other by Stan Rogers.
The CD opens with one of its strongest cuts, Chance of Rain. It has a clean, crisp melody, and a bridge that picks up the pace. Gorka seems to be saying that nothing is simple where matters of the heart are concerned&msadh;if you don't engage in life and love, they won't engage you back. The wonderful Alice Peacock joins Gorka on backing vocals, and Tommy Barbarella is a standout on keyboards.
Lucy Kaplansky lends her gorgeous, plaintive voice to Gorka's Broken Place, a mesmerizing tale about a place in time which provides both sorrow and "a curtained freedom."
Folk music was born out of protest and politics, but sometimes it's hard to marry the two and come out with great art. Writing in the Margins is the best song I've heard about the conflict in Iraq. The song is written in a soldier's voice, writing to his bride at home from somewhere in the desert of Iraq. We don't hear about the bombs, or the tanks, or the artillery. What we do hear are the feelings of an ordinary soldier doing his duty, "writing in the margins" to keep his hope, his faith and his sanity:
I am writing in the margins
I guess try to sleep now
Gorka turns in a stunning and utterly unforgettable cover of Stan Rogers' The Lockkeeper, with Lucy Kaplansky, once again, gracing the chorus with her lush harmony vocal. The song is rich and deep, hypnotizing and captivating, as it kidnaps you and brings you along on its tale of the sea, and its lockkeeper.
Lastly, When You Sing is a glorious celebration of the music of one of Gorka's favorite singers, Mavis Staples. It is so completely full of joy and love that it is infectious!
With the release of Writing in the Margins, John Gorka proves once again that he is one of the leading lights of the acoustic music world, and is very much still in the business of producing songs that matter. There is a lot of light and love here, even in the darkest places. Gorka has come full circle. He has been so adept at describing life's deepest challenges. And now it seems fitting that he brings us out into the light.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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