I was reminded of John Gorka while watching a Judy Garland biography on PBS last week; he wrote a character sketch of the actress on his first album, detailing the movie studio mistreatment that contributed to her tragic struggles. It was a fledgling example of his ability to report the human condition with keen insight and lucidity, of his uncanny ability to wring deep meaning from the mundane.
A product of the Fast Folk movement of the 1980’s, Gorka has released ten albums since 1987, with nary a dud among them. His ardent pen and warm, relaxed delivery make him an envious blend of Jackson Browne and James Taylor; his thoughtful craftsmanship and quotable songs remind me of Townes Van Zandt. If I may say so, he writes songs to live your life by.
Writing in the Margins presents another batch of sincerity and wisdom: in “Chance of Rain” he sings about risks and the costs of not taking them; “Broken Place” suggests that hard times bring more blessings than good times; and the title song and “Road of Good Intentions” strike a decidedly anti-war pose as Gorka warns “…there’s more fiction out of Washington than out of Hollwood.”
For the first time in his career, Gorka borrows material from other writers. Worth the wait, Townes Van Zandt’s “Snow Don’t Fall” and Stan Rogers’ exquisite “Lock-Keeper” turn out to be the best tracks on the CD. An entire album of Gorka interpreting Townes Van Zandt should be a strong consideration by Red House Records.
Writing in the Margins is one of the best of the year, but not John Gorka’s best; for that check out 1990’s Land of the Bottom Line. And for a decent survey of Gorka’s music, check out the recently released Pure John Gorka — a batch of songs from his Windham Hill years (1990-96).
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