John Gorka

Before Beginning- 2016 (Red House)

by Michael Rampa

GORKA John Gorka travelled the indie route when it was a clearer path to success in a musical landscape untainted by piracy, digital downloads and paltry songwriting royalties. He came up playing coffeehouses in eastern Pennsylvania where he rose from a basement resident and house MC to performer. Rolling Stone dubbed him “the preeminent male singer-songwriter of the New Folk Movement.” Having worked with Shawn Colvin and Lucy Kaplansky, he already had industry cred by the time Red House Records recognized his potential and released his first album, 1987’s critically acclaimed “I Know” Gorka is known for his slice of life observations, and this collection of his first and previously unreleased recordings is less a narrative arc than samples of his various stylings. Nine of the 12 songs made it onto “I Know.”

The opener, “Down In The Milltown” is a workingman’s anthem where the laborer prefers silence and the sound of the engine to human interaction coming off of his shift. The album is punctuated throughout with his very capable guitar work spanning styles from rock to jazz. The relationship songs range from whimsical on “Out Of My Mind” to the more serious “Love Is Our Cross To Bear.”

He displays a keen sense of humor singing about “Winter Cows:” “Some dream of Florida, roaming the beach or dreaming of India where their cousins are stars.”

“Blues Palace” is more a more serious tale about a house of prostitution with heavy handed lyrics – “There are overused lovers and junkyard news/There’s nasty women that will cater your affairs/With a white light that says sugar upstairs.”

But the somber mood is contrasted by a soulful sax and deft Stratocaster which give it a jazzy Windham Hill feel. Ironically, he signed with the label’s imprint, High Street Records, in 1989.

There are really no surprises here – fitting as Gorka has been a model of consistency over his entire career.