- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004

Eliza Gilkyson

Land of Milk and Honey

Red House Records

Opening with a stinging lyrical indictment of the Bush administration, Austin singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson floats through a rugged landscape of 10 songs on this, her third Red House release since 2000.

Included are a title track that sounds as if it originated in a Methodist hymnal, a song from Miss Gilkyson’s father, Terry Gilkyson, whose songs have been covered by artists ranging from Dean Martin to the White Stripes, and a never-before-recorded Woody Guthrie song, “Peace Call.” On the latter, verses and harmonies are traded among Iris Dement, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Griffin.

There might not be any future standards in this disc like her father’s “Marianne,” “Greenfields” or “The Bare Necessities” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” But Miss Gilkyson does turn life’s rough edges to her advantage as a songwriter. Her songs, mostly turning on images of people trapped in desperation, all ring true.

Touring in support of the disc, Miss Gilkyson is scheduled to appear tonight at the Jammin’ Java coffeehouse in Vienna.

On the opener, “Hiway 9,” Miss Gilkyson bravely brings the antiwar genre to a new level, artfully encapsulating criticism of the Bush administration’s foray into Iraq. In “Tender Mercies,” Miss Gilkyson combines the disturbing images of a terrorist attack and children poisoned by industrial waste to conclude that “a life devoid of mercy’s tenderness really isn’t any life at all.”

In the “Ballad of Yvonne Johnson,” Miss Gilkyson tells a bitter story of abuse and neglect in a family of American Indian heritage. It includes a drunken murder and ends with the protagonist, Miss Johnson, serving life in prison at age 35, seeking to make amends, to “share my shame and pain so others/they might do the same.”

The melody provides the indelible element in the spare song of longing, “Separated,” in which the protagonist urgently sings that she wants “to get close to the flame … to feel love course through my veins” despite a desire to never “lose myself to anyone ever again or be a victim of passion.”

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