John Gorka – Bright Side of Down (2014)

March 11, 2014 by Nick DeRiso


John Gorka’s music reflects his life as a working troubadour, no matter how long it takes the albums to arrive. In the case of Bright Side of Down, it’s been five years since the folk singer’s most recent album of originals. And yet, we join Gorka returning from a gig, on a snow-covered night, as Bright Side opens — as if in the middle of a sentence, as if he never left.

That’s the comfort, the real joy, of a Gorka record. It’s like running into an old friend who, no matter the distance or the time passed, picks up everything right where they last were. Over the subsequent 10 new songs, and another by his late friend Bill Morrissey, Gorka pulls up a comfortable chair, tells a few tales, lets us in. Beginning in winter (in fact, at the town where Buddy Holly and Co. lifted off on their final journey), Gorka ultimately concludes with the advent of a new season on “Really Spring,” taking us along on a journey of big dreams, dark worries, thrumming passion, and warm embrace.

Bright Side of Down, issued by Red House Records, moves in close as Gorka shares these tales. You can almost hear the gravel hitting the truck’s undercarriage, almost see the road signs whizzing past in the corner of your eye. That is, if you weren’t so galvanized by Gorka’s open-hearted confidentiality, as he delves into everything from our looming morality (“Don’t Judge a Life”) to the free-falling joys of finding a life’s love (“Outnumbered”), from this era’s robber-baron doings (“High Horse”) to childhood’s sweet reverie (“Honeybee”).

After stripping back on 2009's So Dark You See, which unfolded without a drummer, Gorka went the other way this time — inviting a handful friends over for these new sessions, including Eliza Gilkyson, Michael Johnson and Lucy Kaplansky, among others. And yet it might be Morrissey, the tough New Hampshire singer-songwriter, who makes the biggest impression — though he’s been gone since 2011. Pausing to sing Morrissey’s “She’s That Kind of Mystery,” Gorka sounds utterly humbled, lost in a curious wonder. He’s a master at storytelling, no matter whose words they are.


Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored jazz, blues, rock and roots music for Gannett News Service and USA Today, All About Jazz, Popdose, Living Blues, No Depression, the Louisiana Folklife Program and Blues Music Magazine, among others. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at


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