Music Matters Review

Eliza Gilkyson—Secularia
2018, Red House Records

On this her 20th album, Eliza Gilkyson presents music that is as urgent as a debut, conceived, performed and produced with the love and care of a life-long artist. In songs with lyrics by her grandmother, Phoebe Hunter Gilkyson, and her own songs from the last three decades, Gilkyson meditates on the mysteries of life, thankfulness, wonder, love and all the things that some people say make us human and others say make us divine. Gilkyson takes on topical issues without naming them. “Lifelines,” described in notes about the album as a reaction to waking up to find that Trump was president, makes reference to Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” to rally good-hearted people. “Reunion” is about refugees at sea, invoking their plight on the immense ocean with rolling piano and a lush strings (courtesy of the Tosca String Quartet) and compassionate lyrics. “Seculare” with a pensive rhythm and etherial choral backing meditates various iterations of “Thank you for…” without requiring an answer to the question “to whom?” Gilkyson does not always banish an addressable deity. Assisted by gospel singer Sam Butler on “Sanctuary,” Gilkyson sings the refrain “Thou art with me.” “In the Name of the Lord,” is the most strident song, challenging those who bend scripture to suit their prejudice, greed and willful ignorance. “Down By the Riverside,” a pre-Civil War African American spiritual is well-placed among these songs, and especially fitting as it is a duet with fellow Austin musician Jimmy LeFave, who died after a long illness in May of 2017. There is not a small song on this diverse and beautiful album as Gilkyson considers the big questions one more frequently asks when a friend passes. No matter the way one answers these questions, such a fine collection of songs is something to be thankful for.—Michael Devlin