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Eliza Gilkyson

Secularia – 2018 (Red House)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Eliza Gilkyson

A singular songwriter well regarded in the wider folk community, Eliza Gilkyson has built a career on crafting alluring albums that reflect her soul and sensitivity. "Secularia" is no exception, and if the title implies a certain kinship with more earthly matters, the songs themselves share spiritual sentiments that often conflict with the wider view of religion and the fanaticism that can drive its followers to extremes.

In a recent interview, Gilkyson made it clear that she believes many of the problems encountered in the world today stem from religious ideology and the way those beliefs are used to rationalize dominance and subordination. "I'm angry at what humans have done in the name of it," she says. "So my anger comes from how we've co-opted something and how we use the fear of mortality, this fear of hell, to manipulate people."

She addresses that hypocrisy directly on the song "In the Name of the Lord." "We're all prisoners in a fairy tale, A ship of fools all set to sail...And it's all in the name of the lord."

The music is suitably somber and subdued throughout. Shawn Colvin, Warren Hood and the late Jimmy LaFave are among those making cameo appearances, but Gilkyson deserves credit for crafting such an insightful set of songs that not only raise questions about the modern malaise but also the way those that claim to aspire to sacred principles fail to do so in actual practice.

Make no mistake, Gilkyson isn't attacking anyone's beliefs or challenging the notion of a higher power. To the contrary, on the song "Seculare" she offers thanks for the blessings bestowed upon her - the gift of love, the moon, the stars, her home along the river, the songs, her good luck, "and all the things that don't go wrong." "Sanctuary" finds her declaring her faith, pure and simple. "In love's sanctuary, Thou art with me." A take on the traditional tune "Down by the Riverside" allows her to share pacifist precepts in another sacred context, with LaFave's voice ringing through in a display of poignancy and passion.

Ultimately, "Secularia" is a beautiful, meaningful and engaging collection of compositions that address the real meaning of spirituality and why we ought to embrace our better angels. This is a record for the ages and a remarkable one at that.

Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles.