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John Gorka
The Gypsy Life (DVD)

Review By Steven Stone
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  I've been following John Gorka and enjoying his gentle humor, clever lyricism, and engaging melodies ever since I first heard his music in 1987. I was pleased when I heard that the audiophile record label AIX was releasing a deluxe John Gorka performance DVD/CD. But this disc brings little joy. It ranks as the most somber and least exciting live recordings I've ever experienced. Its funereal nature is all the more surprising because John is an animated and highly amusing live performer, but except for one unique selection recorded at McCabes, this disc is a dirge.

Most of The Gypsy Life (excluding the live McCabes cut) was recorded December 18, 2006 at the Zipper Auditorium at the Colburn School for the Performing Arts, in Los Angeles, CA. Gorka is accompanied by Michael Manring on fretless electric bass, Russ Rentler on mandolin, Amelia Spicer on background vocals and Susan Werner on acoustic guitar, piano, and background vocals. All are talented performers in their own right, but none step out to deliver any extra spice to Gorka's lackluster performances. I have a theory, well, not my theory, but a theory first proposed by J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile Magazine, called aptly "Holt's Law." It says, ‘The quality of a recorded performance is inversely proportional to the quality of the recording." In short you often find the greatest performances on lousy recordings and lousy performances recorded perfectly. The Gypsy Life holds true to Holt's Law. Why? I have a theory about that as well...

The problem with The Gypsy Life is that everyone involved is so conscious of the recording process (and their inability to correct errors in post-production) that they play conservatively so as to avoid making any mistakes. Trying to play everything perfectly leads to musical constipation. Even Glen Gould, who was perhaps the ultimate musical perfectionist realized that to play an entire piece perfectly he had to be able to edit the final recording. With AIX's recording methodology editing is verboten. All the performers know this and adjust their playing accordingly.

Playing The Gypsy Life the first time reminds me of the experience of seeing a gorgeous and perfectly put together woman across the room at a social gathering, finally meeting her, and finding out she has the intellect of a junior high schooler. Your initial impression is full of promise, but the actual experience is void of content.

 

 

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