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Red House Records opened their doors in 1981. Founded by folk musician and poet Greg Brown as a label to release his own albums, in 1983 he turned the operation over to Bob Feldman, who continued to grow and expand the label with releases from Spider John Koerner, Prudence Johnson, Peter Ostroushko, Rio Nido, Jorma Kaukonen, John Gorka, Utah Phillips, Tom Paxton, Norman Blake, Eliza Gilkyson, Loudon Wainwright III, Robin and Linda Williams, Cliff Eberhardt, The Wailin’ Jennys, Storyhill, The Pines, Meg Hutchinson, Danny Schmidt, Elkin, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.
Bob Feldman passed away in 2005, but Red House Records has continued to grow and prosper. 2013 marked Red House’s 30th anniversary, and the label shows no signs of slowing down as it reaches middle age. In early 2014 Red House will be releasing three new albums that all deserve a place in any folk music fan’s library.
It’s been four years since John Gorka’s last album, So Dark You See, which I reviewed for Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2010. I wrote, Gorka “delivers thirteen more reasons why he ranks as one of contemporary folk music’s leading talents.” Bright Side of Down further burnishes his reputation.
Gorka’s musical career began in 1984 when he won the New Folk Award at the Kerrville Folk Festival. In 1987 Red House Records released his first album, I Know, which included the provocatively titled tune, “B.B. King was Wrong.” His next five albums, released between 1989 and 1998, were on Windham Hill’s High Street Records label. In 1998 Gorka returned to Red House Records where he has remained ever since.
Gorka’s music is warm, thoughtful, and full of delicate musical moments. His voice has a level of instant intimacy that reminds me of Mary Chapin Carpenter. His subject matter is always personal, but with universal appeal, such as the opening cut, “Holed Up In Mason City,” which is all about being stuck in bad weather.
Gorka plays acoustic guitar, high-string guitar, banjo, keyboards, lead vocals, and wrote all twelve songs on the album. Joined by Antje Duvekot, Eliza Gilkyson, Claudio Schmidt, Michael Johnson, and Amelia Spicer on background vocals, Dirk Freymuth on electric guitars and bouzouki, Gordy Johnson on acoustic bass, and Michael Manring and Enrique Toussaint on electric bass, this well-recorded and fine sounding album deserves a place in any folk music fan’s library.
Claudia Schmidt’s first solo album was released on Red House Records in 1991. Since then she’s made four more albums – It Looks fine From Here, Wings of Wonder, Bend In The River, and now New Whirled Order. Co-produced by jazz guitarist Dean Magraw, who plays both electric and acoustic guitars on the album, New Whirled Order features 13 new original songs written or co-written by Schmidt.
According to Schmidt, lines from the Michael Leunig book, A Common Prayer, inspired all the songs on New Whirled Order. The album showcases not only Schmidt’s song writing talents, but also her singing chops. She has a wide vocal range that allows her to venture from Celtic to Blues to Jazz with ease.
Accompanying musicians include Magraw on guitars, Richard Gates on bass, Tim Griffin on drums, Chris Haynes on piano and accordion, Betsy Doriss on oboe, and Sally Rogers, Howie Bursen, and Jeff Davis on backing vocals. Recorded at Signature Sounds in Pomfret Center, CT, the album was engineered and mixed by Mark Thayer and mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering in Boulder, CO. The sound is excellent – rich, warm, intimate, and carefully arranged for maximum musicality, making this a lovely “comeback” album.
For her ninth solo album Eliza Gilkyson has enlisted her son, Cisco Ryder, as co-producer. Gilkyson was born into the folk music business – her father, Terry Gilkyson, wrote songs for the Kingston Trio and The Brothers Four. One of his better-known songs, “Fast Freight,” is resurrected on Nocturne Diaries, and features backing vocals by his grandchildren, Delia Castillo and Cisco Ryder. This is very much a family affair.
When I reviewed Gilkyson’s previous album, Roses at the End of Time for Vintage Guitar Magazine, I wrote, “Few folk singers, even those from the original folk revival, have been able to combine social consciousness with musicality as well as Eliza Gilkyson. She merges strong songwriting talent with commanding vocals to create music that has immediate appeal as well as lasting intellectual impact.”
On her latest album Gilkyson wrote ten of the twelve songs. The two covers are the previously mentioned “Fast Freight,” and John Gorka/Will Stafford song, “All Right Here.” Recorded in her hometown of Austin, TX, at Phantom Powers Studio, the album was mixed by James Tuttle at Airshow Mastering, and Mastered by Dominic Maita at Airshow Mastering in Boulder, CO.
Although it doesn’t come out officially until March 18, 2014, you can pre-order a copy from Amazon and be one of the first to hear Eliza Gilkyson’s latest addition to her rich musical legacy.