John Gorka

Before Beginning – 2016 (Red House)

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

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CDs by John Gorka

John Gorka travelled the indie route when it was a clearer path to success in a musical landscape untainted by piracy, digital downloads ad paltry songwriting royalties. He came up playing coffeehouses in eastern Pennsylvania where he rose from a basement resident and house MC to performer. Rolling Stone dubbed him "the preeminent male singer-songwriter of the New Folk Movement." Having worked with Shawn Colvin and Lucy Kaplansky, he already had industry cred by the time Red House Records recognized his potential and released his first album, 1987's critically acclaimed "I Know" Gorka is known for his slice of life observations, and this collection of his first and previously unreleased recordings is less a narrative arc than samples of his various stylings. Nine of the 12 songs made it onto "I Know."

The opener, "Down In The Milltown" is a workingman's anthem where the laborer prefers silence and the sound of the engine to human interaction coming off of his shift. The album is punctuated throughout with his very capable guitar work spanning styles from rock to jazz. The relationship songs range from whimsical on "Out Of My Mind" to the more serious "Love Is Our Cross To Bear."

He displays a keen sense of humor singing about "Winter Cows:"
"Some dream of Florida of roaming the beach
With metal detectors for gold they can reach
Some dream of India where their cousins are stars
But they don't like the crowds, so they stay where they are"

"Blues Palace" is more a more serious tale about a house of prostitution with heavy handed lyrics -
Blues Palace it's a Palace of the Blues
For used lovers and junkyard news
There's nasty women who will cater your affairs
With white lightning and sugar upstairs

But the somber mood is contrasted by a soulful sax and deft Stratocaster which give it a jazzy Windham Hill feel. Ironically, he signed with the label's imprint, High Street Records, in 1989.

There are really no surprises here - fitting as Gorka has been a model of consistency over his entire career.