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John Gorka
Writing in the Margins
Review By Steven Stone
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  Although he is not the most sensitive of singer-songwriters (David Wilcox has long ago retired that award) John Gorka still ranks as the archetypical singer-songwriter poster-boy. His songs always have a uniquely personal point of view coupled with quirky lyrics and infectious melodies. On his latest release, Writing in the Margins, Gorka continues to create top-flight music.

John Gorka's recording career began in 1987 when Red House released his first album, I Know. In 1989 Gorka signed with Windham Hill's High Street Records where he produced five recordings over the next seven years. In 1998 Gorka returned to Red House Records and released After Yesterday in 1998, The Company You Keep in 2001 and Old Futures Gone in 2003. Writing in the Margins marks Gorka's tenth release. Over the years Gorka's music hasn't changed much; is hasn't needed to. From his first album Gorka displayed a fully mature level of musical and lyrical sophistication. The music in Writing in the Margins expands Gorka's library but doesn't push the edges. I don't think this is a bad thing. John Gorka has honed his craft to the point where even his "throwaway" novelty songs have more weight and wit than serious efforts from lesser tunesmiths. My favorite of his new crop is the title track that combines strong visual imagery with a haunting melody.

Ten of the twelve songs on Writing in the Margins are new John Gorka originals. The late Stan Rogers and Townes Van Zandt wrote the two covers. The Van Zandt song "Snow Don't Fall" receives an especially poignant reading, thanks in part to Nanci Griffith's perfect accompanying vocals. Other musicians on Writing in the Margins include Dirk Freymuth on electric and acoustic guitars, Joel Sayles on bass, Jeff Victor and Tommy Barbarella on keyboards, J.T. Bates on drums, Rob Genadek on percussion, Eric Heywood and Joe Savage on pedal steel, and Nanci Griffith, Alice Peacock, Lucy Kaplansky, and Kathleen Johnson on backing vocals. Rob Genedek, who wears three hats as producer, engineer, and mixer, keeps the sound warm, inviting, and harmonically complex. Rich musical textures and full orchestrations increase the music's aural interest while never lowering its decipherability.

With his tenth release John Gorka has further established his place as one of the foremost singer-songwriters in the United States. If you appreciate music created by and for thinking adults, Writing in the Margins should be in your collection.

 

 

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