Eliza Gilkyson has been making albums on and off since 1969, but it’s within the last decade that she has really hit her stride via releases such as Paradise Hotel (2005), Beautiful World (2008), and 2010’s Red Horse (with John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky). It’s unlikely that many reviews of Gilkyson’s records appear without some sort of reference to Lucinda Williams. Those comparisons are easy because both women have lived-in voices that only seem to get better, stronger with age, and because both women found recognition hard-won. But the comparisons end there. Unlike her counterpart, Gilkyson appears to be just gearing up, something that’s evident throughout the 10 varied pieces found on Roses at the End of Time. Produced by her son, Cisco Rider, and featuring guest turns from Gorka, Kaplansky, and Sumner “Brother of Roky” Erickson, the album is an almost unqualified success.
Album opener “Blue Moon Night” seems an obvious choice for the NPR spotlight –– hardly a measure of crass commercialism. The gently, twilight-soaked melody reveals its full majesty as patiently as a mirage, and at nearly six minutes in length, the track never wears out its welcome. And if a passing reference to iTunes smacks a little too much of the now for some listeners, then its successor, “Death in Arkansas” (penned by her brother, former X member Tony Gilkyson), is as timeless, down home, and seemingly effortless as Dolly Parton’s greatest work. The album hardly settles in before Gilkyson puts the pedal to the proverbial metal and moves to the open road for “Looking For a Place”, a welcome and respectable plea for sanctuary and solitude.
“Slouching Toward Bethlehem” allows Gilkyson to get her blues on with conviction, and she also crafts a lyric reminiscent of the great Bruce Cockburn in his darkest –– and most delicious –– hours. “2153” is a funny and insightful look at contemporary fundamentalism and rapture mania, while the closing “Once I Had a Home” sees the artist offering a heartfelt if somewhat flawed salute to souls less fortunate, living in nations torn asunder by attacks from without and convulsions within. But the pace is somewhat torpid, and the production harkens to bygone era (think Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball) that doesn’t really serve this otherwise under-produced and refined album all that well.
The seven-minute “Belle of the Ball” lingers a little too long, slowing the pace of the album, as does “Vayan al Norte.” That’s too bad because by the halfway mark, the record really begins to sing with promise and excitement. No matter, Gilkyson has earned her stature as a gifted and consistent songwriter, and those minor disappointments do little (or maybe nothing) to tarnish the solid reputation she’s earned.
Roses at the End of Time may not be the artist’s single greatest work, but it is another added pleasure in an enviable body of work –– moreover, it’s a refreshingly easy recording to enjoy, to turn to in times of laughter and tears, joy and fright, prayer, and bouts of irreverence: all the stuff we don’t seem to encounter on a single platter often enough.