Eliza Gilkyson “2020” (Compass Records, 2020)

Just to get this out there, this album is scarily prophetic. Quite how two-time GRAMMY™-nominated singer Eliza Gilkyson knew to write this and call it simply ‘2020‘ is beyond me. The first listen to it was pre-virus and it was frightening enough then: there are plenty of references to racism, gun violence, terrorism, and climate change. But now, in our new world of illness, fear and panic, the songs are even more arresting.

If folk music is to be an instrument of change, then Gilkyson is here to lead the way. ‘2020’ was produced by her son Cisco Ryder and brings together a collection of songs that are designed to get you joining in with the call to arms by using plenty of repetition and simple refrains.

On the writing of the album, Gilkyson says: “2020 was born out of a visceral impulse to promote unity, commitment and action during this epic and critical showdown of power versus people in the USA and our world today. May human decency prevail.”  Indeed.

Album-opener ‘Promises to Keep’ is a simple acoustic track with a hard-hitting message. It’s a sad song, lamenting the state of the world. From the desperation in the repeated chorus “We’re on fire, we’re on fire, we’re on fire now” to the inaction in the world “thoughts and prayers will never make things right” it pulls at your soul.

Peace in our Hearts’ has Gilkyson sounding more like Roseanne Cash. She swaggers through the song with confidence. It’s got a richer, rockier sound. Its uplifting message is welcomed after track one. This is about us standing together to make things right, we will “stare into the face of the hateful mind with peace in our hearts”.

Gilkyson doesn’t shy away from referencing her folk peers. ‘My Heart Aches’ uses well-known phrases from other anthems “we shall overcome”,  “give peace a chance” while listing victims of hate crimes, the homeless, helpless children. The empathy pouring out is incredible. It is similar in style to Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall’ which she also covers on the album.

Even the more upbeat songs are fiercely political. ‘Beach Haven’ is almost honky-tonk, rich with pedal steel and a fantastically catchy chorus: “Shake hands together and get together and walk together and talk together and sing together and dance together…” it goes on. However, this perky happy sounding track is making a statement about the race hate and exclusion in rentals in Beach Haven, New Jersey. The last census in 2010 showed the area to be over 98% white.

Sooner or Later’ is a bluesy, edgy sounding track about inequality and segregation, Gilkyson warns that the tables will turn “Gonna rise up, gonna take it all back”.

There is celebration of the world in ‘Beautiful World of Mine’. Gilkyson introduces fiddle and mandolin sounds to the track and presents what should be everyone’s mantra in these crazy times  “I promise to share, and handle with care, this beautiful world of mine”.

A powerful, political folk album that is lyrically striking
9/10

Author: Linda Jameson

Moonshine, music and murder ballads - I own 6 pairs of cowboy boots!

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