John Gorka - So Dark You See
Published on Enjoy the, March

Review By Steven Stone

New Jersey has a reputation for producing rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, but it's also the birthplace of one of the foremost folkies of his generation, John Gorka. On his latest release, So Dark You See, Gorka delivers thirteen more reasons why he ranks as one of contemporary folk music's leading talents.

Gorka's musical career began in 1984 when he won the New Folk Award at the Kerrville Folk Festival. In 1987 Red House Records released his first album, I Know, which included the provocatively titled "B.B. King was Wrong." His next five albums, released between 1989 and 1998, were on Windham Hill's High Street Records label. 1996's Between Five and Seven was co-produced by Mary Chapin Carpenter's longtime guitarist and collaborator John Jennings. In 1998 Gorka returned to Red House Records where he has remained ever since.

So Dark You See is Gorka's eleventh studio album. Ten of the thirteen tunes are new originals. Gorka chose other people's words for the lyrics on several. "A Fond Kiss" uses a Robert Burns poem, while "Where No Monument Stands" is based on a William Stafford poem. So Dark You See even has two instrumentals; "Fret One" features Gorka's fingerpicked acoustic guitar while "Fret Not" is played on a fretless tackhead banjo. All three cover tunes display Gorka's unique musical style. His take on the Michael Smith folk classic "The Dutchman" uses his quiet intensity to heighten the song's intrinsic pathos.

Recorded near Gorka's hometown in Minneapolis, MN, the album's arrangements are Spartan with only a small core band. Eliza Gilkyson, and Lucy Kaplansky join Gorka for background vocals, but he handles all the lead vocals and most of the acoustic guitar parts. Dirk Freymuth and Dean Magraw play electric guitars on several tunes and mandolin master Peter Ostroushko plays on one tune, but the stars here are Gorka's voice and songwriting. On So Dark You See he shines as brightly as the North Star on a moonless night.