Red House Records
Eliza Gilkyson has been making incredible music since long before I bumped into her with the release of Lost and Found sixteen years ago. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter (without the long-ago popular acclaim), Shawn Colvin (without the hit, and who duets on the engaging “Conservation,” a song built upon a poem from Gilkyson’s grandmother), and John Gorka (without the beard), Gilkyson has woven in-and-out of what I believe is the keenly coined “spare urban folk approach,” or—less charitably, perhaps—coffeehouse folk.
Like her contemporaries, her name occasionally appears on Grammy nomination lists, but she remains unknown to all but those most engaged with folk and contemporary adult music. Secularia isn’t likely to make Gilkyson a household name, but it offers discriminating listeners fresh opportunity to appreciate her talents.
With songs like “Dreamtime” and “Lifeline” Gilkyson explores the spiritual—not religious— bonds that unite us as democratic, accepting inhabitants of a challenged society. Like most of her albums, excepting her most recent The Nocturne Diaries which was a bit more rambunctious, Secularia is an introspective and fairly quiet album, one which requires effort on the part of the listener to engage: the grooves aren’t necessarily gonna grab you and inspire shuffling around the kitchen. Rather, these 12 songs envelope and embrace the listener, sharing their secrets and charms with an intimate manner.
Within “Conservation,” Gilkyson and Colvin sing of the continuous cycles of Earth: “I have no god, no king or saviour; no world beyond the setting sun. I’ll give my thanks for one more day here, and go to ground when my time has come.” Utilizing close harmony, the pair create a nourishing song of faith and assurance. I trust that the Tosca String Quartet joins Gilkyson on the equally compelling “Reunion,” a song that soars with emotion. [My download copy did not have accompanying song notes.] The gloves come off on “In The Name Of The Lord”—hypocrites, beware.
Fellow Texan-by-choice, the late Jimmy LaFave joins Gilkyson on a fiddle-rich take of the gospel folk standard “Down By The Riverside,” and when his voice joins her on the refrain—man, I almost lost it. An addition to his significant legacy, certainly. “Instrument” is a challenging ode, a song of self-reflection, I believe.
Secularia is a musical postcard of joy, peace, and hope, one that embraces the positivity and community of Odetta, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
For lonely fools who sing their best alone in the dark.