October 2005

Eliza Gilkyson - Paradise Hotel
Red House Records RHR CD 187
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Eliza Gilkyson is a songwriter of such profound gifts that the obvious imagery and sentiments of "Man of God" from Paradise Hotel are beneath her: "The cowboy came from out of the west / With his snakeskin boots and his bulletproof vest." That does not mean the song doesn’t work -- it hits hard. The throbbing tremolo of her brother Tony’s guitar opens the tune and sets an ominous tone, with Ray Bonneville’s harmonica playing dogging its tracks. The song haunts you, as does the one that follows it, "Jedidiah 1777," which is based on the Revolutionary War letters of one of Gilkyson’s ancestors.

"Man of God" is the only instance where Gilkyson’s anger causes her to resort to cliché. On the remaining tunes, her strong poetic voice rings true and strong. In "Think About You" she sings: "I’m a sucker for the thrill of the chase / A little damage and a little grace."

Gilkyson’s gift for melody never falters on Paradise Hotel, and her ear for arranging is as strong here as it was on Lost and Found (2002) and Land of Milk and Honey (a 2004 Grammy nominee). She lets great players shine throughout, especially guitarist Mike Hardwick, and her own solid guitar playing anchors the disc.

In the end, it is the pure honesty and conviction of Gilkyson’s voice that brings her songs across. Her slightly raspy singing carries years of experience with it, and she never pushes too hard. She is an essential American songwriter, and she keeps getting better.