Music Matters Review

John Gorka—Before Beginning - The Unreleased I Know - Nashville - 1985
2016, Red House Records

Before Beginning was 25 year-old John Gorka's first experience in making an album, but he could hardly be considered a rookie. By this time he had already been the MC and regular opener at Godfrey Daniels, was part of New York’s Fast Folk scene and won the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Award. This album is an “A” team effort, produced by Jim Rooney and featuring premiere studio musicians and harmony vocals by Shawn Colvin and Lucy Kaplansky. The completed record was not released at the time and was superseded two years later by the re-recorded and expanded I Know. As someone who has followed Gorka throughout his career, the first thing I noticed about this album was the sound of his voice. His studio work is usually recorded in a way that accentuates the resonant timbre of his baritone voice. This album was recorded with all of the musicians playing together in the studio with Gorka’s vocals further back in the mix. Where I Know has more intimate arrangements, Before Beginning captures the synergy and ambience of a concert. The songs, finely crafted lyrically and musically through a wide range of styles, are made all the more memorable by Gorka’s thoughtful phrasing. I’m not sure why “Geza's Wailing Ways” did not make it to I Know, but “B.B. King Was Wrong,” “Heart Upon Demand" and “Like My Watch” are welcome additions in the later album. The last song (and still one of Gorka’s finest) “I Saw a Strange with Your Hair,” leaves you wanting more, and fortunately for us, this was only before the beginning. —Michael Devlin