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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1533

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Eliza Gilkyson: Beautiful World
by George Graham

(Red House Records 212 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/30/2008)

Music does tend to run in families, or so it seems, judging from the spate of recordings from second generation performers, especially among folkies. The offspring of Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Loudon Wainwright, Kenny Loggins, Lowell George and Paul Simon, to name a few, have recently released CDs. This time, we have another recording by a second generation artist, but one who has been recording over 20 years now. Eliza Gilkyson's new release is called Beautiful World.

Eliza Gilkyson is the daughter 1950s folksinger Terry Gilkyson, who was part of a popular band called the Easy Riders, and who wrote numerous songs that have been recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash and even Dean Martin. The senior Gilkyson also wrote the song The Bare Necessities that was part of the Disney film Jungle Book.

Eliza was one of three children all of whom would end up in the music business. She says that she got into music "for all the wrong reasons, more of a survival tool than anything else." But, she adds, "it proved to serve me more than I dared to imagine."

A long-time resident of Austin, Texas, Ms. Gilkyson grew up in the Los Angeles area, but at the end of the 1960s, moved to New Mexico where she raised a family, and performed regularly, attracting fans. Among her popular recordings were Pilgrims, in 1987. With a New Age influenced sound, it was a departure from her innate folk-based direction, but it nevertheless attracted audiences in that genre, and she ended up working with Swiss harpist Andreas Wollenweider.

But she did return to her folk roots on a succession of recordings, including Land of Milk and Honey from 2004, which was nominated for a Grammy in the contemporary folk category. The CD represented her social commentary side, in the classic folk tradition. In fact, it contained a previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie song.

Beautiful World is her first studio recording in three years. Her last release was a live album. The new CD features a collection of songs that take look at the state of the world but combine that with a kind of underlying optimism. She says that the songs grew out of a monthly gathering that she hosted with a University of Texas professor and activist and a minister, that were discussion groups on politics, the environment and spirituality. One particular event whose topic was the future in the wake of the current state of the world, led her to write a song called The Great Correction, which in turn supplied the direction for the rest of the album.

On Beautiful World, she was joined by members of her regular recording band, including Mike Hardwicke on guitars, Glenn Fukunuga on bass and Cisco Ryder on drums; along with some guitar contributions from her brother Tony, who was member of the band X. The musical backing is a tasteful blend of folk, rock, a bit of country and a hint of jazz. Ms. Gilkyson said that going into the project, she decided to play whatever instrument she thought would fit with the song, and let the musical styles take her where they would. She plays some National steel guitar, keyboards, and electric guitar, in additional to her folkie's standard-issue acoustic. The backing musicians provide support ranging from intimate acoustic to rocky.

The CD opens with Emerald Street, one of the more optimistic songs, celebrating being in love. Ms. Gilkyson plays the bluesy National steel guitar. <<>>

Rather more laid back is Wildewood Spring, a kind of reminiscence of a favorite place. <<>>

The song that served as the inspiration for the CD is one of its highlights. The Great Correction takes a term from the stock market to make a powerful statement on the current state of affairs, with hope that things may get better. <<>>

In the same lyrical vein is The Party's Over which also deftly addresses the subject of sustainability. <<>>

Hewing as well to a serious subject is Dream Lover, which shows a bit of contemporary country influence in its story of a woman forced into prostitution by poverty. <<>>

Another straight out love song is He Waits for Me, a low-key celebration of the faithfulness of one's significant other. <<>>

Ms. Gilkyson's deft social commentaries continue on Runaway Train, with its comparisons between the subject of the song and the current state of the world. <<>>

The CD ends with Unsustainable with its country and jazz backing taking aim at whatever political figure you care to interpret the lyrics to mean. <<>>

Beautiful World, the new CD from veteran second-generation singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson is one of the best of her career. The recording combines her skillful social commentary and adroit lyrics with tasteful, fairly eclectic musical backing. She can make her point without being heavy-handed, and she also throws in some love songs, all the while keeping the mood fairly optimistic.

Sonically, we'll give the CD an A. There is good clarity, the mix is well-done and gimmick-free, and there is better than average dynamic range.

There are a lot of good singer-songwriters in the world these days, and quite a few of them are from the same Austin hometown as Eliza Gilkyson. Ms. Gilkyson brings a combination of lyrical depth and pleasing musical acumen to this fine album that is likely to have real staying power, even if the circumstances behind some of the songs were to change.

(c) Copyright 2008 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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