Eliza Gilkyson hasn't ascended to the upper ranks of todays's foremost singer/songwriters purely on happenstance alone. Her albums affirm a belief in music as an essential salve, especially in times of dire distress and turmoil. So considering the paralysis induced by the coronavirus, the state of the nation's political dysfunction and the distrust that's pervaded society in general, Gilkyson's soothing tones are needed more than ever.
Granted, Gilkyson had no way of knowing the the latest nightmare to befall the nation and the world in the form of a pandemic, and yet her new album, "2020," named for the year we find ourselves in, seems timely in ways other than simply the calendar's signpost. Its soft-hued songs speak to the need to overcome the diaspora of greed, racism and the disregard of decency that have been prevalent for far too long.
It's appropriate then that she retraces a pair of particularly meaningful songs, both of which haven't lost meaning despite the fact they were conceived many decades before - Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and Pete Seeger's immortal anti-war anthem, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." Each takes its place in a musical firmament sowed by hushed hymns of her own making, songs which offer a plaintive plea for understanding, hope and forgiveness. On opening track, "Promises to Keep," she sings these lines:
"I've been hoping there'll be some way through
And all out loved ones will be fine
No one knows what it'll come down to
So I'm just looking for a sign."
While Gilkyson surely had her sights set on other pervasive problems, the lyric clearly rings true today.
Other songs are equally affecting - the otherwise assertive "Peace In Our Hearts," the heartfelt lament "My Heart Aches," a somewhat sassy "Sooner Or Later," and a belated co-composition with Woody Guthrie titled "Beach Haven Apartments." The latter is especially significant; it's inspired by a letter Woody wrote to Fred Trump - yes, Donald's dad - urging him to abandon his racist rental requirements.
A superb cast of backing musicians effectively add to the album's sumptuous sound - Gilkyson's son and producer Cisco Ryder Gilliland, keyboardist Bukka Allen, fiddler Warren Hood and backing vocalist Betty Soo among them. The sum total of their efforts rings with the resilience and determination that propels all that's righteous in the world and everything that's still well worth remembering.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tennessee. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - "Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound" is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.