Eliza Gilkyson has always been a socially and spiritually conscious, if not overtly political, songwriter, and 2004's pre-election Land of Milk and Honey and 2005's post-election lament Paradise Hotel were meditations on hope, change, and righteous anger. Beautiful World appears in an election year, but the viewpoint is different: Gilkyson rises from the place of disappointment and grief to equanimity. With her road band and guests who include John Inmon, Cindy Cashdollar, David Grissom, Julie Wolf, and her brother Tony, ...
Eliza Gilkyson has always been a socially and spiritually conscious, if not overtly political, songwriter, and 2004's pre-election Land of Milk and Honey and 2005's post-election lament Paradise Hotel were meditations on hope, change, and righteous anger. Beautiful World appears in an election year, but the viewpoint is different: Gilkyson rises from the place of disappointment and grief to equanimity. With her road band and guests who include John Inmon, Cindy Cashdollar, David Grissom, Julie Wolf, and her brother Tony, Gilkyson pursues a path that is alternately confessional, grieving, hopeful (rather than optimistic), confused, broken, and compassionate. She invokes a diverse array of sounds, styles, and textures that move this set out from the predictable tropes of contemporary folk-jazz, roots rock, and even slinky keyboard affected ballads. Her new songs find beauty in some of the most unlikely places. What better way to begin a "political" album than with a love song? It's not ironic; it's revolutionary. Led by a fingerpicked National Steel, she sings above her band: "...Whole world's goin' up in smoke/Hard times comin', I ain't jokin'/Just tryin' to keep my heart wide open/...Feel like a kid from the inside out/All because I'm in love...." Horns walk the line between mariachi and Memphis soul, and accompany Gilkyson's delicate yet grainy voice. The song's radical notion is that love is always possible, and can survive anything. The poetic "Wildewood Spring" reflects weariness and the desire for rest along with its "urban survivors," "West Texas grads," "rednecks," and "hippies." She finds herself coming away with the courage of love rather than relaxation: "I remember the first time I knew I could love him/And this would be more than a vow and a ring/With the last rays of hope and the blue sky above him/He flung himself into the Wildewood Spring....""The Party's Over" is a soft-rocking dirge: a true lament for the end of America as we know it, the song reflects the bleak dawn of morning at the Hotel California -- after Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. Frustration is at the center of acoustic guitars, bass, and Cashdollar's pedal steel on "Great Correction." The song's setting is at the corner of "ruin and grace." Though it spells out the karmic consequences of our behavior, it is also a paean with a glimmer of hope: "...It's the bitter end we've come down to/The eye of the needle that we gotta get through/But the end could be the start of something new...." The hardest rocking tune here is the scathing "Dream Lover." A dark and angry song about the truth of male desire, it's sung from the point of view of the abused -- but the protagonist is not going down; she's speaking the truth to her abuser instead. The theme of romantic love returns in "He Waits for Me." It's tender, full of gratitude in acknowledging the risk involved in loving another. The protagonist is on the receiving end of a love that expects nothing in return except that she be true to herself. It is the most exquisite piece here. Its power is subtle and gentle, but undeniable in the weave of acoustic guitars, atmospheric pedal steel, and sparse strings. Gilkyson's love songs have always been something to reckon with, but this one sets a new high watermark. When it's over, the listener will have confusing, conflicted feelings. The songwriter has done her job well. She doesn't place her songs above her listeners; she's down inside them; she stubbornly clings to the notion that hard-won compassion provides the eye of the needle that redemption slips through. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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