REVIEW: Eliza Gilkyson’s New “Secularia” is Spellbinding Testament to the Power of Secular Beliefs


They say the third time is a charm, but if Eliza Gilkyson’s new release Secularia (Red House Records) is any indication, the twentieth time is spellbinding. This, Gilkyson’s twentieth release, was produced by Cisco Ryder Gilliland and features a slew of guest performances including by the Tosca String Quarter (David Byrne, Bob Schneider), Shawn Colvin, Sam Butler, the late Jimmy LaFave, and features two songs adapted from poetry written by Gilkyson’s grandmother Phoebe Hunter Gilkyson (co-written by her late father, Terry Gilkyson).    In addition to appearances by all of those high talented performers, Gilkyson is also backed by Austin musicians Kym Warner (the Green Cards), Chris Marresh (Eric Johnson), Warren Hood, Andre Moran, Mike Hardwick (Jon Dee Graham), Betty Soo, and more too.

“Solitary Singer,” the opening track, is Gilkyson’s interpretation of this song for which her father wrote the music to her grandmother’s poetry.  The song was the theme song for her father Terry Gilkerson’s weekly folk-music radio show in the 1940’s for the Armed Services Radio Network, and features Kym Warner on Mandolin and Warren Hood on fiddle.  This version has a haunting cadence over mournful violin by Hood, in just that way a poem set to music should be.  “Conservation” is another of Gilkyson’s grandmother’s poems, this time set to music by the granddaughter; with duo guitars and Shawn Colvin, Gilkyson and Gilliland on vocals:  “Ancient kings on ancient thrones from Ninevah to Babylon… I have no god, no saviour, no world beyond the setting sun…I’ll give my thanks for one more day here” spells out the gratitude a secular person can experience.

“Lifelines” tells us that: “out of a dream, lifelines glow in the dark.”  On “Seculare” there is medieval-like chanting, but with female voices.  The philosophers among us will note Gilkyson is a fan of philosopher/theologian Mary Daly, who notably confronted concepts of god as male.  Moreover, there are deconstructionist themes at work here: the seculare (secular in latin) may provide a female source of empowerment, as opposed to the way the sacred empowered the male, for many historical reasons.   Then “Reunion” opens with heavy, heavy strings arrangements, from the Tosca String Quartet, while “Sanctua” starts out with low male vocals: Pastor Sam Butler, Darryl Bourdeaux, and David Hurst.

“Down By The Riverside” is a traditional that Gilkyson recorded with Jimmy LaFave prior to his passing, while “In the Name of the Lord” decries that “we watch the empire’s epic fail on shiny handheld screens.”  Overall the album must be approached as a thematic one, with the songs piecing together to form a whole.  And you’ll need to clear the decks and listen to it in its entirety to appreciate the depths of its offerings.  Get your copy, here.



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