Personnel: John Gorka (vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo); Dirk Freymuth (electric guitar, bouzouki); Cale Baglyos Reed (fiddle); Jeff Victor (keyboards); Gordy Johnson (acoustic bass); Enrique Toussaint (electric bass); Rob Genadek, J.T. Bates (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Rob Genadek.
Recording information: Kico Studios; Morningstar Studios; Paisley Park Studios; Phantom Power Studios; The Brewhouse Recording Studio, Minneapolis, MN; Wittman Productions.
Photographer: Joe Del Tufo.
Bright Side of Down is singer and songwriter John Gorka's first set of new studio material since 2009's So Dark You See. Once more produced by Rob Grenadek, it features his regular band and some well-known friends. Gorka's work has developed along a particular line over the last two decades. He pays close attention to the details in his craft -- rhyme, musical economy, tight melodies -- and whether what's in a song is true to it. "Holed Up in Mason City," with its shuffling meld of acoustic and electric guitars, brushed drums, and accordion, is about the fate of enduring a pre-season blizzard. Told in the first person, musically it owes a small debt to Richard Thompson, which is hardly a bad thing. Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson contribute harmonies to the melancholy title track. While it's a sad song, Gorka's protagonist never sounds as if he feels sorry for himself. "High Horse" is the reverse. He offers traces of bitter irony in the aftermath of a broken relationship and his protagonist intimates his health is failing while everything else is going to hell. Gorka expresses empathy for his character, but he's not necessarily buying it. He delivers a fine reading of Bill Morrissey's "She's That Kind of Mystery." With sparse accompaniment, Gorka finds the world-weariness in the author's intent, lets it come to the fore, and still manages to reveal the romantic magic in its core, thanks in part to Amilia Spicer's hovering backing vocal. Closer "Really Spring" is among the most tender songs that Gorka's written, with a simple four-chord figure framed by the spectral yet irrepressible harmony vocal of Antje Duvekot. It captures the wistfulness of spring's past and the longing for its arrival and renewal, and the knowing that knowing winter always has one last trick up its sleeve. Bright Side of Down should resonate with Gorka's fans and those of modern American folk music. ~ Thom Jurek