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Eliza Gilkyson – Roses At The End of Time (CD Review)

Eliza Gilkyson – Roses At The End of Time (CD Review)
1. Blue Moon Night 2. Death in Arkansas 3. Looking for a Place 4. Roses at the End of Time
5. Slouching Towards Bethlehem 6. Belle of the Ball 7. Vayan al Norte
9. Midnight on Raton 10. Once I Had a Home
Label – Red House Records
Release Date – 3 May 2011
Time – 47:39
Eliza Gilkyson has said her vision regarding music is also “to make great art”, and on this 10-track recording, and the follow up to her 2008 Beautiful World she continues to succeed. Artistic creativity is rife throughout ROSES AT THE END OF TIME from the Austin Music Hall of Fame inductee, who is now in her early sixties. This is her 8th project with Red House Records since joining the label in 2000. Her son, Cisco Ryder who plays a variety of instruments also acts as the projects engineer and producer and is credited with the cover art. The production is first rate and perfectly compliments Gilkysons vocals and cultured lyrics, with songs which are mostly mood pieces with a late-night vibe. They are edgy, thought provoking and compelling with large slices of social commentary.
The airy and slow paced ‘Blue Moon Night’ creates a comforting atmosphere as day settles into night. The construction is simple, spacious but beautifully textured. Away from the safety of home perhaps it points to a vulnerability of being out in the big wide world following the lost of love.
With the fiddle and banjo ‘Death In Arkansas’ has an old-time feel and is composed by her brother Tony Gilkyson. It features folk stable mates John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky with whom she recorded the Red Horse album, a project which finds them recording each other songs. Eliza feels a love for natural world with the opening line: “I remember how the wood would smell just as the last great tree was felled” and lists the materials many uses in a country environment including a coffin that leans against a wall. It sets a cinematic southern farm scene, where once a lone dog howled on a red dirt road and a crowd gather to say final goodbyes. The last dollar store and its owner are now no more and the birds in the fields have sadly vanished to become a patchwork of concrete and shopping malls. The howls and the crows will again call when death returns.
Looking For a Place’ is an upbeat rockier country affair and has radio possibilities. Here the character is a “wanderin’ fool burning fossil fuel” with the smell of despair in the air trying to hold onto a dream. Looking at the faces from the stage through the dark the singer’s mindset is on finding sanctuary to crash and fall apart.
The achingly beautiful and floaty ‘Roses at the End of Time is a soulful love song where joy and sorrow are evenly balanced. In the gentle final hour there’s a blessing for the fate that first brought a lover to her door and she’s thankful for the kindness, vows honoured and a love that bound their hearts.
The quirky, jazzy ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ features Sumner Erickson (tuba) and some menacing slide guitar work. The titles words are drawn from the poem ‘The Second Coming’ by non-believer W.B Yeats (1865-1929) written in 1919 after the Great War when the Irishman saw a world in pandemonium. The Second Coming is not that of Christ as promised in the Bible and according to In the Book of Revelation returning after a period of catastrophic destruction before the world ends. It is not however not to be gentle Jesus but that of a “rough beast”: That twenty centuries of stony sleep / Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle / And what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Gilkyson perceives a world in anarchy, moral decay and on the verge of economic bankruptcy. With all the current political upheavals and uncertainties these perceptions she holds have even greater intrinsic worth – “People get ready cos’ it won’t be long for the hurricane”
Belle Of The Ball’ is a rather mysterious tale. It perhaps relates to something sinister with its opening line: “After the crash and the broken glass and the nightmare…..I wanted to end it all “Later the damsel in distress is seen recovering at a halfway house. The onlooker rooted to land helplessly watches her sail out into the sunset – Will they ever meet and dance again?
The Spanish flavoured ‘Vayan al Norte’ (They go to the north) speaks of illegal immigrants and Gilkyson shows her personal compassion for their hopes and the struggles they endure. Observers downtown do not ask why they abandoned farms to cross the barbwire frontier taking gambles to seek work. Eliza played Vayan al Norte at the Vigil & Hunger/Thirst Strike for Justice in Austin. Its organizers (The Workers Defense Project) are asking City Council to pass an ordinance to guarantee construction workers the right to rest breaks and clean drinking water.
We are transported in time on ‘2153’ to the humans of the future where “brains are quite large for their bodies” and they “bought and they fought and they twittered”. As doomsday looms close in the “last big play” each one calls out for a different God, but it’s all in vain.
Undoubted highlight ‘Midnight On Raton’ has a gorgeous melody and is wonderfully atmospheric. On this slow, dark and broody number Texan cult musician Townes Van Zandt gets a name-check. Holed up in a motel the character seems lost and lonely and trying to make sense of a cruel world. By dawn she’ll be out on the inner state, through the hills and gone.
Eliza’s vocals have a haunting quality on the hymn-like ‘Once I Had A Home’. A slow plodder but rather hypnotic as the lyrical intrigue penetrates the mind as we draw the final curtain.
This album is sophisticated and an acquired taste. With its cleverly composed songs though they can be somewhat unfathomable and melancholic and it makes for living room listening. Pause, take a time out, and smell the roses then turn on the iTunes before you step out into the herd.

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