Album Review: Eliza Gilkyson, ‘Songs from the River Wind’

Eliza Gilkyson recently moved full-time from her home in Austin, Texas, to the top of a ridge just outside Taos, New Mexico. It was more of a shift, really, since Gilkyson has had the Taos home for a number of years now, spending parts of each year there, drinking in the beautiful vistas of the Sangre de Cristo range. The oil painting sunsets and dusty desert air. The adobe and the blessing of the Rio Pueblo de Taos. All of these things are insinuated throughout her new album, Songs from the River Wind, released on January 14 on Howlin’ Dog Records.

After years that saw Gilkyson releasing album after album of biting, poetic commentary on the state of the world, her foray into an old-west aesthetic is a surprising development. Several of the songs, she pulled from her father Terry Gilkyson’s canon, rewriting the verses so they were more true to her than to him. Others are simply fresh and new from a songwriter who has long since mastered the form.

First among the covers of her father’s work, her exquisite take on his song, “Wanderin’.” It plods along at that slow, steady cowboy pace. She spins his young, virile story of keeping a woman in every town, into a song that sees an older woman taking stock of her past.

Indeed, at 71, Gilkyson is among a very small number of women her age who have decided to write new songs about growing old. That songwriting niche has been chock full of older men, but women performers are expected to somehow fade away. As Gilkyson mentioned in our recent podcast recording, she is proud to be a woman of a certain age, willing to not only “go there” but to stay.

She gives the same feminist rewriting on “Buffalo Gals Redux” and digs into her own original story on the evocative, easy-flowing narrative of “The Hill Behind This Town.”

“Before the Great River Was Tamed” starts with an echoic, dripping-wet guitar tone and Gilkyson’s voice feeling far away. It’s an ode to the Rio Grande, imagining back before it was appropriated for the benefit of humans in cities. “Bristlecone Pine” is a lovely little banjo-driven folk song. And “Taosena Lullaby” is a sweet but catchy ode to her chosen home, peppered by soft dulcimer trills, conjuring the Taos Pueblo right into your speakers.

Indeed, the music that’s possible in rural New Mexico is simply different from the music that’s possible in urban Austin where, granted, there are also hills and dust, but as many jampacked motorists and big, glassy high rises. If Gilkyson is going to let the Land of Enchantment keep dancing through her songwriting, we’ll just consider that a gift.


Songs from the River Wind is available HERE.



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