Friday March 13, 2015 @ 8:00 PM
John Gorka plays a concert in celebration of his 12th studio album, Bright Side of Down, out now on Red House Records. The first release in over four years from the acclaimed songwriter widely regarded as “one of contemporary folk music’s leading talents” (Vintage Guitar), the album’s 12 songs are beautifully produced and sequenced from beginning to end. With guest vocal appearances by Red House labelmates Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, Claudia Schmidt and Michael Johnson, the collection resonates with the classic, “Gorka-esque” sound and lyrical insight that’s earned him generations of devoted fans and a career that’s found him gracing the stages of PBS’ Austin City Limits, NPR’s Mountain Stage and venues worldwide.
The 11 original songs and one cover (by his late friend Bill Morrissey, "She's That Kind of Mystery") explore broad themes of winter-to-spring: of unforgiving edges, saving beauty, and being at the mercy of larger forces. The songs adjust like eyes to darkness, opening up to let in more light.
"I think my experience living in Minnesota has brought a certain perspective to this record,” Gorka says. “You'll find it in the images but also in the idea that in spite of bitter cold and wind, people find ways to hold each other up and keep going."
The album opens with the true story of trying to get home in a blinding Iowa blizzard with the catchy, uptempo “Holed Up Mason City” and ends with a reflection on the spring that seems so far away, “Really Spring.” Mason City, IA is famous for being the city where Richie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly's plane took off after after a show in Clear Lake for what would be their fatal last flight (and no, there is no "Big Bopper" diner in Mason City). He experiences the “Procrastination Blues,” shares the charming “Honeybee,” written for his daughter, and the timely story of “High Horse,” set in a crumbling neighborhood where the good jobs are no more.
There’s a greater intimacy to these performances that reflects the way the album was made. Gorka composed the songs on the road and at his home studio before bringing them into the Brewhouse Studio in Minneapolis. He'd record demos and let them “rest” to see if they aged well. The result is an album in the true sense of the word -- a meticulously sequenced group of songs that works as a whole.
Bright Side of Down is personal while hitting a universal nerve, a quality John Gorka has made his signature, with a group of songs that you’ll keep thinking about long after the album ends.