This is a difficult one to hear in the context of its original inspiration – that being an election year where there is potential of a return to common sense, decency, and forward-looking thinking from the President. This health pandemic leaves us with such an uncertain future that the importance of the 2020 election, at first blush, takes a back seat for now. While this writer believes that America will want to turn the page, initially it was not as easy to summon the fervor and political outcry as it was “BC,” before coronavirus. Too many people are suffering, too many are dying, while fear and grim attitudes grip the rest. However, as we’ve received more information about the lack of foresight and sheer dismissal of early warnings, not to mention the President’s rallies disguised as informational briefings, the impending election grows more important than ever. We are physically distanced, but we can still congregate morally and intellectually around the same common ground. Eliza Gilkyson’s songs can help us do just that.
Eliza is a died-in-the-wool folkie who is carrying the torch for the originators – Woody, Dylan, and especially Seeger. Produced by Eliza’s son, Cisco Ryder, these are mostly political anthems, designed as singalongs, whether composed by Eliza or covered (Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall and Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”). She holds little back in her condemnation of the current administration. Take “Sooner or Later” with these lines –“They take the oil from the earth, put their coal dust in the sky/Their poison in the water, they don’t care if people die/Take the food from the hungry, medication from the poor/Take the children from their mothers, we can’t take it anymore.
She put music to the words of Woody Guthrie in “Beach Haven.” Guthrie’s words come from a letter he wrote in 1952 directed to Beach Haven Apartments’ landlord Fred Trump (Yes, 45’s father) regarding his racist, segregationist renter policies. In “One More Day” she turns to climate catastrophe and takes the opposite tact in “Beautiful World of Mine’ which celebrates life, love, and community. “We Are Not Alone” with its lyric –“Step by step as time goes by/Until we find each other in the dark…And we are not alone..” is eerily prophetic in this stay-at-home time even though it was meant to be a political rallying cry. That song and “My Heart Aches” were co-written with students from last summer’s songwriter workshops in Taos, NM.
As she usually does, Eliza recorded with her most trusted Austin musicians – ace string man Mike Hardwick, bassist Chris Maresh, keyboardist Bukka Allen, fiddler Warren Hood, mandolinist Kym Warner and drummer Cisco Ryder. Singers Jaimee Harris and Betty Soo contribute selectively as does the WEWIM choir of Austin, a support group of female musicians co-founded by Eliza and singer Charlie Faye.
This is the true essence of Eliza Gilkyson, unifying us. Play these songs to your friends, use them as fuel, and take the good that’s come out of this COVID situation – more time with loved ones at home, helping others, and giving yourselves time to think about how best to be proactive so that these songs take on even more importance. We only have less than seven months.
- Jim Hynes