Gorka brings world of folk music to town

It's the first time he has played in Syracuse, saying he enjoys "first-evers."

Thursday, June 01, 2006
By Mark Bialczak
Staff writer


Photo made by ThomC.John Gorka live at New Bedford Summerfest. july 2006

Rolling Stone magazine called John Gorka "the pre-eminent male singer-songwriter of the new folk movement."

Great lifetime quote for his press biography, certainly. Big head to follow? "I think of it in context," Gorka says during a recent phone interview from his home in Minnesota. "I think at the time none of the other singer-songwriters wanted to be associated with folk music." Gorka chuckles. "It's a nice thing, but it's not something I think about a lot," he says.

He's too busy. Of course, there is the touring. Friday night at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, Gorka, 46, will play in Syracuse for the first time. "I'm glad there are still a few first-evers," he says.

"Last year, there was a trip where three of the four places I'd never been. Arkansas, Oklahoma . . . maybe it was two of the three places." There are the two children, ages 8 and 6, with the youngest in kindergarten. There are the two albums scheduled for release in the next two months.

"Pure John Gorka" is a "best-of" compilation due out on Windham Hill Records on June 27. "It's hard to describe as a greatest hits thing. . . . The songs were picked to make a good record upon itself. A best-of, with my favorite songs, that would not make a good record to listen to. My favorites would be too slow," he says.

So he trusted Dawn Atkinson, who produced two of his albums, to pick the songs for him. But that wasn't until he had substantiated that it was coming out at all. "I didn't know about it until I got a call from the copyright department of Sony/BMG," he says.

"I called them back and said, 'I have a record coming out?' I found out the story behind it, they're putting out a series from Windham Hill artists." "Writing in the Margins" is a studio album on Red House Records that will be released July 11.

That will make it an even dozen records, starting with his 1987 debut for Red House, "I Know." He says he came upon the song title because it personifies his songwriting style of late. "Since being a dad, that's kind of how I write songs, here and there when I have time," Gorka says.

"At one point, I wrote a song in the morning and demo-ed it that night," he says. Family life has changed his writing since the days he became part of what was known as the Fast Folk live shows in Greenwich Village with Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, Christine Lavin, the late Dave Van Ronk, Cliff Eberhardt and others. "As I get older, my perspective has changed," Gorka says, "and what's become important has changed.

I think I'm thinking more in terms of decades than week-to-week, trying to plan more long-term than I've done." The title cut from the disc is written from a soldier's point of view. "I guess somebody would consider (it a) protest song," Gorka says.

"Protest songs to me can often mean a simplistic song, sloganeering. So I try to stay away from that sort of thing. I try to stay away from preachy songs. I try to tell the truth as I see it. I try to have songs for everybody, even people who don't vote like I do." And there's more to the new disc. He has never been a one-note Johnny.

"I'd say that one of the things that attracted me to the world of folk music is that it could be about any aspect of a person's life," Gorka says, "and the songs could comment on the personal or the social or the political. "It seemed to be a more complete expression of a life," Gorka says. "When I do that, I think it comes out of a need in me to feel like I'm telling the truth or saying something that I feel needs to be said."

Mark Bialczak can be reached at mbialczak@syracuse.com or 470-2175.
2006 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.
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