Old Futures Gone

CD review in FolkWax

Last time around, back in the year we lost the innocence, production of John Gorka's previous album The Company You Keep was, humorously, credited in the liner booklet to "two Polish guys and a Ukranian." On this occasion, one of the Polish guy's, Rob Genadek, is the producer. According to the Old Futures Gone press release, Genadek employed three different back lines - bass and drums - to suit the Gorka-penned original being cut. Frankly, I can't spot "the join" as Old Futures Gone is an extremely cohesive and funky piece of work. The Gorkster sounds just so relaxed, throughout. His long time vocal buddy, Lucy Kaplansky, supplies harmonies on a trio of cuts, while rising star Alice Peacock adds her voice on another pair, as does local Minneapolis songbird, Kathleen Johnson, who contributed to John's 2001 disc. As for the "man vocal thing," Joel Sales, supports John's baritone on a trio of tracks.

While, for me, John's writing stumbled a little a few of albums back, on the fourteen selections here, Gorka is very much in focus and on the ball. He has created a challenging collection of lyrics that sustain repeated listening. Being his first post 9/11 effort it's hardly unexpected that Gorka offers his take on that event and the evolving aftermath. His thoughts arrive late in the collection in the form of the segue, "War Makes War"/"If Not Now." Typical of past releases, in the liner booklet, Gorka appends a few words by way of introduction to the song. It appears that some of the "War Makes War" lyric draws upon, with the approval of the estate, the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King. Gorka's take of a never ending cycle of attrition is obvious from the song title alone, while his solution lies in the lines "But we can learn the most from those, Who think differently." The four lines and twenty-two words of "If Not Now" pose the questions "when?" and "where?" in relation to the unspoken answer "will there be peace."

Pursuing the foregoing issue of war'n' peace further, the message that underpinned Carrie Newcomer's "I Heard An Owl" [from her late 2002 FolkWax "Album of the Year" The Gathering Of Spirits] arrived in the lines: "The only peace this world will know, Can only come from love." We reviewed John Flynn's lyrically vitriolic Dragon in FolkWax a few months back, and "Not With My Jesus" featured the closing verse line "I gave you each other to care for and love." In the game of hawks and doves, when it comes to expressing love for your fellow man, you enter a territory where some would deem that you are exposing your soft underbelly. Having thought long and hard about this subject, Gorka, Flynn and Newcomer have swayed me away from my previous stance. When will it end, when will we listen, how much time is left...Like Pete Seeger attests on Seeds, currently the odds lean heavier toward planet Earth perishing at the hands of man, and not through any natural disaster.

Midway through the disc, Gorka presages the pairing of "War Makes War"/"If Not Now." with his "end of the innocence" album title track. The opening verse finds him quoting themes from the poet William Blake's "Eternity," while the next verse hints at the hard road that must be taken by America in the future in "This one we'll have to earn." Referring, in the third verse, to the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Gorka poses the question "Is war another animal, Or the beast of last resort?" Old Futures Gone is far from being a full tilt 9/11 diatribe, and elsewhere on this melodic song series there's "Make Them Crazy," the reflections of a 45-year-old parent of two, while "the future" as a theme surfaces on the opening cut "Dogs And Thunder." John's liner introduction runs to "There are worse things than being alone" and this love song, ostensibly, views the aftermath of a relationship. Created by the deft hand of a poet, who employs everyday phrases or images in his lyric, among many great Gorka lines are "Nothing more to have, nothing more to hold" and "the future is water in your hands, not a polished piece of glass." "Trouble & Care" is a song penned by John and his wife, Laurie Allmann, a writer on environmental issues.

It's an unmistakable aspect of Gorka's make up as a songwriter, that he has reflected, and continues to reflect upon the painful and sorrowful aspects of this life. Instead of being unresolved and negative statements, his words are an uplifting call to pick oneself up off the floor and valiantly fight the next round. On the Old Futures Gone John's writing truly shines. In fact [if you check the front liner picture], while the future may be a little less certain, the light is so bright that John is wearing shades!

Arthur Wood is a founding editor of FolkWax