Returning ‘Home’ With Eliza Gilkyson

In a world where soulless forces of greed turn a cold shoulder to love and hope, the shards of broken souls litter the ground. Flickers of light dart behind the dark shadows of despair and disbelief, illuminating a path to a safe harbor where love steadfastly waits to embrace and cradle weary travelers.

On her fourth album in five years—Secularia (2018); 2020 (2020); Songs from the River Wind (2022); Home (2023)—Eliza Gilkyson probes into the corners of the human heart, exploring not only the yearnings we have to travel back to the place we feel safe and welcomed but also the spirit of that place that lives within us that we carry wherever we travel.

The songs on Home ingeniously reflect the perspectives of those traveling back to “the sweet scent of home in the breeze” as well as those waiting to enfold the sojourners in loving arms: “hear me out/when you know I’m hurting.” Gilkyson muses that during the pandemic, when “everybody went home and just stayed there,” we learned that home could be a sanctuary, a place where our sanity could be intact.

Home opens with “True North,” a gorgeously spare song that floats along the gently plinked banjo sonically  reminiscent of the opening of Linda Ronstadt’s version of J.D. Souther’s “Faithless Love.” The verses, which Gilkyson sings with a quiet tenderness, swell into a chorus shimmering with crystalline mandolin and aching pedal steel that evokes the longing to find the center, the light of home, the “true north” that we carry within us, even when we’re far away from out physical homes. “I couldn’t decide whether to open the album with ‘True North’ or ‘Home,’” says Gilkyson. “In many ways, they’re bookend songs. Home or a sense of place means developing that inner north star that keeps you sane, and that north star is guided by the love of a person who grounds you.” As Gilkyson sings in the chorus: “True north, true north/All through the darkest night/True north, true north/Your love my guiding light.”

The defiantly joyous “World Keeps on Singing” opens with a snare shot and propulsive lead riffs that blossom spaciously into a driving, upbeat sonic atmosphere that mimics the joy of a group of people singing as means of preserving hope and sanity in a world that is hurting.

“This is a pandemic song,” Gilkyson recalls. “I remember how terrifying it was initially, when people were dying and there was so much uncertainty, and we were all locked in in our homes. Seeing all those videos of people in New York City and other places opening their windows at a certain time every day and singing and cheering the health care workers inspired me to write this song.”

Robert Earl Keen joins Gilkyson for a duet in the tender love ballad “How Deep.” Like a few of the other songs on the album, this one is an older one that Gilkyson plucked from one of her older books of songs and song ideas. “I had the idea for this one back in the ‘80s,” she says.

“I had written a few lines, and they were awful,” she laughs. When she picked it up this time, however, the song “poured out of her.” Gilkyson says she could hear a man singing this song, so she contacted her dear friend Robert Earl Keen who, in her words, “just killed it.” “His voice has a tenderness, and he brings this element of brokenness that adds an element of vulnerability.” “How Deep” asks very gently the profound questions we ask when we face our own mortality: did we make amends with family and friends? Did we smell the flowers and soil? “Did I tell her how she made my world go round/Did I thank her for her time?” Did we love deeply?

“Sparrow” is another older song that finally fit somewhere, according to Gilkyson. Lush piano chords tumble gently in the opening bars of the song, flowing under the poignant duet between Gilkyson and Mary Chapin Carpenter, “one of my dearest friends,” says Gilkyson. The exquisitely resonant music and lyrics convey the “symbiotic relationship between an artist and her fans. An artist is grateful to her fans, and fans are grateful to an artist.” Like a short story or a poem, a song comes to life when it finds a home in the hearts of fans: “My song’s a sparrow singing,/searching for her nest/You bring her to her rest/When you/take me in your heart.” Gilkyson muses that she wrote the song to express “complete and utter gratitude to the people who come to my shows and buy my music.”

“‘Man in the Bottle’ is an idea I had many years ago while my dad was still alive, but I felt it was inappropriate to sing it and record it while he was still alive,” says Gilkyson. This ingeniously crafted song pays loving tribute to her father Terry Gilkyson by weaving snippets of his songs into story of a woman looking back on her life with her father, balancing the perspective of a young girl wanting something from her father and learning of his shortcomings and his genius as she grows up. Gilkyson wanted to include musicians from her father’s day on the song, so she asked John Egenes to play Weissenborn guitar on the snippet of “Solitary Singer,” and Van Dyke Parks to play piano and accordion on “The Girl with the Sad Eyes.”

Parks played in one incarnation of her father’s band The Easy Riders, a role reprised here by Gilkyson’s friends The Rifters, who also play on the snippet from “Blue Mountain.” “Man in the Bottle” is a fitting comment on the ways that a particular home, and the memories of that home, live within us and shape us.

The album closes with Gilkyson’s version of Karla Bonoff’s “Home,” a song that captures eloquently the longing to come to rest, to come off the road, to settle in “home and its warming fire.” “My version might sound a little happier than hers,” laughs Gilkyson, but the force of the song remains the same: resting in the arms of home. Gilkyson’s stripped down take on the song conveys an aching yearning, and it’s the reverberating call and response of the shimmering mandolin and pedal steel in Bonoff’s and Gilkyson’s that evoke the exquisite unforgettable nature of “the sweet scent of home in the breeze.”

Gilkyson recalls that it was kind of a “last minute decision to make the album,” but she says, “I want to get as much music as I can out into the world.” The songs on Home confront the fragility of life. In the songs, according to Gilkyson, she is asking herself—and us—“What is the meaning to your life? What is important to you? How deeply did I love?”

As Eliza Gilkyson so soulfully reminds us in the songs on her new album Home, we can always return to that warm, well-lighted place at the end—or in the middle—of our journeys that consoles us, that heals us, that nourishes us: home.

Home, out June 23, is available for pre-order HERE


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