Austin singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson's remarkable late-career surge should be an inspiration to us all. Or, at the very least, to listeners of a certain age whose personal journeys trace a similar arc across the cultural landscape of a generation.
Like so many of her peers, the now 57-year-old grandmother of four grew up immersed in music and felt the irresistible tug of turbulent change on the frontlines of politics and lifestyle. True, in Gilkyson's case the musical element was magnified by the fact that her father was acclaimed folk-pop tunesmith Terry Gilkyson, the author of "Green Fields," "Marianne," "Memories Are Made of This," and "The Bare Necessities" from Disney's Jungle Book. (Younger brother Tony Gilkyson is a fine songwriter in his own right and the former lead guitarist for Lone Justice and X.)
But her travels through the last third of the 20th century and beyond, complete with the folkie roots, early fascination with psychedelic rock, and later dalliance with the New Age scene, bear a mighty familiar ring. And Gilkyson's fruitful return to the musical wellspring that shaped her sensibilities early on, a move that roughly coincided with her 1998 relocation to Austin, is a triumph any like-minded survivor can share.
On Your Town Tonight, Gilkyson's fifth Red House release and first-ever concert recording, she testifies in no uncertain terms to her still expanding powers as a performer, songwriter and outspoken citizen of the world. Incredibly, the album's 14-song set list includes very little material from the recent trilogy of Red House albums--Lost and Found, Land of Milk and Honey and Paradise Hotel--that finally separated her from the teeming troubadour pack. Gilkyson refuses to play the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately card and she doesn't need to. The retrospective collection includes songs from throughout her 15-album career, along with stirring covers of Bob Dylan's "Jokerman" and two of her dad's classics ("Green Fields" and "Bare Necessities").
Whether she's rockin' the house with her crack, Austin-based band (as on "Beauty Way," "Dark Side of Town" and "Angel and Delilah"), or spinning intricate, finger-picked atmosphere on solo acoustic guitar ("Tender Mercies"), every single track is a rich, sensuous pleasure. Most important, each and every tune is delivered with a confidence and fearless intimacy that's all about right now. This isn't a scrapbook, but rather a live performance in the most vital sense.
Sexy and smart, courageous and vulnerable. It's high time that this wonderfully vibrant artist takes her rightful place among our Americana elite. • Mike Thomas
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