John Gorka – The Company You Keep
Red House 2000

Occasionally when listening to a series of songs, a portrait of the performer emerges despite the guises he or she might adopt. So it is with ‘The Company You Keep’, a work of simplicity & understated grace through which the genial personality, intellectual outlook & infectious, irreverent humour of John Gorka are clearly apparent.

As a songwriter Gorka is comfortable with his abilities, confidently fashioning uncomplicated, profound imagery & varying themes from first person character studies to self-scrutiny & heart on sleeve declarations on the importance of family & humanity.

His unpretentious wordplay is often startlingly effective as in hometown reminiscence & declamation of contemporary mores “Oh Abraham” (addressed to Lincoln):

“Work is not the same as before
More software hands in the hardware store”

Varying shades of humour are evident from the sublime & absurd imagined reminiscences of “Wisheries”

“I formed my own Government
I cast pearls before the parliament
Got some girls for the ex-President
No not him, another one”

to the black, frankly hilarious “Hank Senior Moment” & “People My Age”.

Arrangements are often full but always sensibly based around Gorka’s adroit fingerpicking & expressive voice, usually described aptly as a rich baritone. The core band of Rich Dworsky (keyboards), Andy Stochansky (drums), Dick Freymuth (electric guitar),Gordy Johnson (upright bass) & Michael Manring (fretless bass) are joined by a number Gorka’s star pals including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ani DiFranco & Lucy Kaplansky. These three provide harmony vocals which strongly underpin Gorka’s because of his lower pitch. The sound is open, live, even ebulliently joyful in places.

Gorka co-produces with Rob Genadek & Andy Stochansky. As might be expected from one who has written on recording, production is crystal clear & quietly adventurous as illustrated in the playout of “What was That” as the listener drifts through layers of instrumentation.

A final mention must go “When You Walk In”, an exemplary piece of direct songwriting on the break up of a friend’s relationship:

“He wants to be your friend
But you can’t be his
Tell him to go to hell
You already did”

Here Gorka is joined by John Jennings on second guitar & Chapin Carpenter on harmony vocals for a performance of sensitivity & high emotional impact. This track alone is worth the price of the CD.

James Hibbins
January 2002.

Bob Collum - Low Rent Romeo
2000 - Atomic Powered Records

Tulsan born Bob Collum sings in a distinctly American tenor with sufficient rough edges for an endearingly organic feel & just a hint of Roland Gift in the occasional wavering decay.

His songs deal with the rollercoaster of emotions, flawed or lost loves & he slips effortlessly into the role of blue-collar philosopher. Standard fare perhaps but the stuff of real life & approached with keen observation & songwriting craft reminiscent of Springsteen or John Hiatt. Also included are stripped down readings of Neil Young’s “For the Turnstiles” & Woody Guthrie’s “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt” both of which Collum makes his own.

Collum & the 10 other musicians shift chameleon-like between forms including Long Ryders-style thrash (“Battle Plan”), kitsch high country with fiddles, steel guitars et al (“Hours & the Days”) & a post-modern take on 60’s pop “Half of What You See” which could have been written by Neil Finn.

The listener can decide whether this demonstrates healthy eclecticism or a lack of focus. What is certainly true is that the most emotionally urgent tracks here are the less genre specific, pared down arrangements like the closing “Laws of Gravity” or those built from Collum's guitar & voice up such as the stand out “Empty Hands of Love”.

An underlying high quality of songwriting & an ear for strong hook lines are evident behind all the arrangements & overall this is a well-constructed, highly listenable album that may just contain a couple of truly great songs.

James Hibbins
January 2002