In his first release in four years, folk music icon John Gorka proves once again that his skills as a writer and as a musician are unequaled. Bright Side of Down gives us a flowing piece of art that covers all the bases and exposes all sides of Gorka’s personality. The country-flavored “Holed Up in Mason City,” where “the weather isn’t pretty tonight” on an “ice blue highway” and there’s a hint of Buddy Holly’s ghost, begins a journey of true life experiences, thoughts, and feelings that open the doors to an artist’s eyes and soul.
Whether he’s singing about a man who now lives “fingers to mouth” in a crumbling neighborhood (“High Horse”) or singing a light-hearted romp (“Honeybee”) for his daughter, the message comes down to the bright side of life. “When you think you can’t go on, drop the notion, stop the thought” supplants fear with unwavering optimism. In “Procrastination Blues,” even when November skies turn gray, he wants “just what I have earned” because “people get too much too soon and then they never learn.” His cover of the late Bill Morrissey’s “She’s that Kind of Mystery” is a tribute that explores the bittersweet side of love.
The harmonies of Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson and exquisite musicianship help bring in the light. The wafting fiddles on “Mind to Think” lend beauty to the mix of serious thought and humor (“If I had a mind to think, I might take up joggin’, leave behind those chili dogs, chase books that help my noggin.”). In the end, the snow and ice go underground, everyone wins, and even the down side has its good points.
– Gene Knapp