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ALBUM REVIEW: "Bright Side of Down" by John Gorka

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"Bright Side of Down" by John Gorka
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ALBUM REVIEW: John Gorka – Bright Side of Down (Blue Chalk / Red House) 2014

The opening track on folk singer John Gorka’s new album, Bright Side of Down, is a rather stunning track about weathering a snowstorm called “Holed Up Mason City,” a song I mentioned in a recent Dust Devil Dreams piece called “That’ll be the day,” following a synchromystic visit to Mason City, Iowa, the same town Gorka sings about.

At the Big Bopper Diner there’s a bunch of stranded refugees / And nobody’s talking or looking very eager to please / In a booth I saw Buddy Holly’s ghost, writing to the girl that he loves the most…”

When I first heard that song, at the end of my visit to Mason City, I was passing under the ill-fated flight route of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper while traveling north on Interstate 35, out of town. It was an eerie moment, to say the least, but important. It made Gorka’s mention of “Buddy Holly’s ghost” all the more real.

And followed by the album’s title track, a pleasing folk ballad, Gorka, in his gentle-but-aged voice, sings that “thoughtful words and deeds” are the key to opening up the “voices of your dreams.”

With “More Than One,” the subtle, galloping beat, gives this positive slice of life track the steam it needs.

On Gorka’s “Don’t Judge a Life,” he is rather direct in a loving sort of way, offering the following sage advice: “Reserve your wrath for those who judge / Those quick to point and hold a grudge / Take them to task who only lead / While others pay, while others bleed.”

And while he can get serious (although never overwhelmingly so), Gorka throws us a bit of lighthearted, childlike acoustic fare in the form of “Honeybee.”

Amilia Spicer joins Gorka on his tender cover of the late Bill Morrissey’s 1989 song “She’s That Kind of Mystery.” This is one of the highlights (alongside “Holed Up Mason City,” of course) on Bright Side of Down.

The last few songs, like “Really Spring” and “Mind To Think” and “Procrastination Blues” continue the prairie-folk mood, where weather plays such an important part of life for the Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter. And a fiddle, I might add, is always a good addition when it can work.

I have to admit that I had not heard the entirety of a new John Gorka album since 2001, when I got The Company You Keep, a fine Red House Records offering that featured favorites like “A Saint’s Complaint” and “Hank Senior Moment.”

And while I liked that album and several earlier offerings, the mellow, take-the-back-roads mood suits him on Bright Side of Down

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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