Tony Gilkyson,
Goodbye Guitar
(Rolling Sea, 2006)

A member of a prodigiously gifted musical family, Tony Gilkyson delivers a worthy assemblage of self-penned songs and covers on Goodbye Guitar. Never less than ear-catching, the material gets the sort of sharp production it deserves from Charlie McGovern and Don Heffington, who split the difference between folk and rock, connecting the two with hillbilly fiddle and steel sounds, plus -- where appropriate -- chunking dance-floor rhythms.

Take, for instance, the heartfelt morality tale "Wilton Bridge," an attestation, though no sappily sentimental one, to the common humanity that makes us one with the poor, desperate and homeless, from whom only the most uncertain of fate's circumstances separate us. Fiddle and steel punctuate the electrified-folk melody like a recurring attack of devastating melancholy.

It's followed by "Man About Town," which has the nourish, decadent resonance of a lost Brecht-Weil song, and by Woody Guthrie's not often recorded "Old Cracked Looking Glass," which Gilkyson and band rock rootsily, though it could easily have been recreated as a straightforward honkytonk shuffle. Thematically at least, "Glass" occupies what would be familiar territory in later commercial country music -- namely, the song about the guy who is drinking in a bar, faces sexual temptation, but escapes to his true love -- but it is a curious song for the 1940s, and it isn't at all the way Hank Williams or Lefty Frizzell or even Hank Snow (with whose "Spanish Fireball," written after Guthrie was ill and no longer active, it shares some elements) would have written it.

In his day job guitarist Gilkyson plays on the Los Angeles rock scene, mostly with the venerable X. His other credits include Bob Dylan, Dave Alvin, Peter Rowan, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and other Americana artists. His sister is the well-regarded singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson (who sings harmonies on two cuts), and his father the noted 1950s folk-revival performer and composer Terry Gilkyson ("Memories Are Made of This," "Marianne").

From such influences and his own immersion in traditional and contemporary musical expressions, Tony Gilkyson draws up something broadly like the sound of a West Coast John Prine, albeit without once imitating the original Prine. That, let there be no mistake, is a compliment on my part and an achievement on Gilkyson's.

by Jerome Clark
3 June 2006

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