John Gorka is a towering figure in folk music thanks to his longevity, powerful baritone, collaborative spirit, and remarkable songwriting. Gorka has been on the scene since the early 1980’s, where he cut his teeth in the Fast Folk circles (among others) in New York, playing in coffeehouse alongside folks like Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin and Nanci Griffith. That deep and steady voice he hones brilliantly is like the Bing Crosby of singer-songwriters. And the feeling of assuredness and comfort in that voice is one that few others evoke. John’s musical partnerships span decades and include friends like Eliza Gilkyson, Pete Kennedy (The Kennedys) and Lucy Kaplansky. If you follow the trail of his writing, you’ll find deep and meaningful songs from one of the genre’s most quietly thoughtful troubadours.
All of this is apparent on his latest record, ‘True In Time.’ Produced in Minneapolis with some of the best session players in the city, the album was recorded live, which is apparent in the organic flow and groove. The overall earnest approach is genuine, which is the only thing John Gorka could ever be. In all honesty, Gorka is something of a father figure: kind, supportive, stable, and has that special something that only an adorable dad can pull off: dad humor. Lines like “The cool people had a meeting and decided I was not one of them,” kinda make you wanna groan and roll your eyes in jest. Gorka is a silly guy; if you’ve ever met him or seen him in concert you’ve experienced his sense of humor that occasionally gets into his songwriting. Sometimes it’s charming and sometimes it’s…. not. However, once you start getting under the hood, you’ll discover the profound meaning and extraordinary origins of (most of) the songs.
On ‘True In Time,’ the best example of Gorka’s cuteness aligning with his exceptional songwriting is the song “The Ballad of Iris & Pearl,” where he creates fictional hero folk singers who flew under radar for the whole of their career. He re-writes music history claiming the two women taught Elvis and Dylan everything they know. The best part is when you find out the song was inspired by Eliza Gilkyson’s two dogs (named Iris and Pearl) at her songwriting retreat in Taos, NM.
On the flipside of that silliness is the root of the title track, a co-write with Pete Kennedy. A Facebook post John shared of Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” after the death of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds caused Kennedy to respond, “Maybe all songs come true in time.” Peter later suggested this sounded like a song, which led to co-writing long distance. Not sure if it was intentional to make the song sound like it came from The Great American Songbook, but it wouldn’t be out of place if Fisher and Reynolds ever had the chance to sing it on stage together.
John’s guitar playing has always been the ultimate, the classic, and the very definition of the folk singer-songwriter. Hearing it ring out alongside the crack session musicians on ‘True In Time’ only makes it more true and steadfast. Gorka is at his best when he’s keeping it sincere and contemplative. Also, guest appearances by Jonatha Brooke, Eliza Gilkyson, and Lucy Kaplansky just add to the high quality of this music.
At the end of the day, Gorka’s soulful voice, songwriting, and guitar work are what we’re here for, and they are given center stage on this solid record.