Friday, March 26, 2010

John Gorka - So Dark You See

Because I'm hurtin' for material I thought I would also post my CD reviews as they are published. Have fun!

Years ago I downloaded John Gorka’s Temporary Road album from his web site, an album filled with so many exceptional songs that I nearly feel guilty for getting it free. Despite how fun it is to say “GORKA! GORKA! GORKA!” it took me until the recent release of So Dark You See to pick up another John Gorka album. Without having his other nine studio albums I can’t say how this one fits into the grand scheme but after multiple listens, both at work and while whittling a stick on the back porch, I can say that So Dark You See leaves me underwhelmed.

Mr. Gorka is known for his rich and gentle baritone voice, his flowing and gentle acoustic finger picked guitar style, and his folksy and gentle story telling songwriting. While Temporary Road contained ample amounts of gently self-effacing humor (okay, I’m done with the “gentle” joke now) So Dark You See lacks this bite, leaving the stories feeling a bit more typically singer/songwriter self-indulgent. For instance, the upbeat “Ignorance & Privilege”, with lyrics such as “I was born to privilege that I did not see / Lack of pigment in my skin won a free and easy in / I didn’t know but my way was paved” comes across as intellectually condescending whereas a bit of humor might have tempered the preachy delivery.

However all is not lost. The album begins with “A Fond Kiss,” a delicate, calming song beautifully crafted around the Robert Burns poem of the same name. “Can’t Get Over It” is appropriately melancholic as it mourns the passing of a friend, utilizing an accordion for an appropriately lonely feel. Likewise “Diminishing Winds” focuses on loss and eventual acceptance with a somber realism that will leave you blinking in astonishment. A personal favorite is the foot tapping “Whole Wide World” which finds the protagonist with an address on a dead-end street wondering what his life would be like if “the one” hadn’t gotten away, all decked out with restrained vocal harmonies and chilling electric piano. The patient listener is also treated to two too-brief instrumental tracks which showcase Gorka’s solid mastery of the guitar.

So Dark You See finds John Gorka seemingly at an impasse. He’s been in the music business for decades and no longer has the hungry desire that provided a wonderful contrast to his yearning vocals of things that should be and opportunities barely missed. Without the depth of this disparity his folksy, conversational music seems just a bit flat and worn, leaving one wishing for what might have been, just like the characters which populate his lyrics. Hey, maybe this is intentional, some Gorktastic master meta-plan to make the listener identify with the songs. That would be pure genius!


jackscrow said...

Your cd review is pretty much right on... BUT, you really should listen to some of Gorka's CDs since Temporary Road.

He has had at least three excellent records since then and just as many good ones.

Out of the Valley is killer, as is
Between Five and Seven; followed closely by Old Futures Gone and Writing In The Margins.

Uvulapie said...

Thanks for the tips - I'll look at least one of those up soon. Temporary Road was so chock full of great songs that it couldn't have been a fluke so I'm not completely deterred by this less-than-stellar release.