Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

John Gorka Bright Side Of Down
(Red House Records)

Album Review

David Kleiner |July/August, 2014


"Bright Side of Down" arrives during the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Gorka's first record. But this is not your father's Gorka album. Largely absent is the affectionate satire of "I'm from New Jersey," the political commentary of "Land of the Bottom Line," and the up-tempo passion of "Mean Streak." With arrangements built around acoustic guitar, and vocals recorded with a different pre-amp and mike, Gorka takes a softer, gentler approach as he ruminates on the passage of time and the passing of friends.

The opener, "Holed Up in Mason City," introduces the themes of time and winter that run throughout. A fierce storm has stranded the singer, stopping time ("The future isn't ready tonight.") in Mason City, where time stopped in another snowstorm, when a plane crashed, leaving Buddy Holly eternally twenty-two. In anybody else's hands, the song could have been heavy-handed, but Gorka lightens it with an accordion sound, a two-stepping rhythm, and an evening at the fictional Big Bopper Diner.
The title track follows, with a tinkling six string and vocal help from Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky, as the singer reflects on easing "the way down the uphill climb." "More Than One" provides the record's most driving tune, powered by light but insistent drumming that reminded me of the way some cars sound. It's a folksong Gypsy's prayer for a clear sky, a dry road, a full tank, and a light load.
"She's That Kind of Mystery," a rare cover, is a reverential and lovely take on a lovely tune. Listen to the way Bill Morrisey's original guitar figure appears here. "Honeybee," a kids' song--another Gorka rarity--has a terrific progression and the album's most hummable melody. The most revelatory guest appearance comes on "Procrastination Blues" with Claudia Schmidt's powerful outro vocalese. "Mind to Think" has Gorka on banjo and the unmistakable sound of Michael Manring on bass. "Really Spring" brings the album to a thematic close. Dirk Freymuth's high strung guitar and an overlay of Antje Duvekot voices bring the beauty.

The ever self-deprecating Gorka declares himself and spring the winners, but he's down on his knees with the loser anyway. No matter what freezes us, a thaw can come and this record is warm enough to help get you through any winter.

David Kleiner interviews John Gorka!! - click here .

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