Robert Frost set his famous poem about the unfinished task of living on a snowy evening. The weather serves as a metaphor for his isolation while stopping in the woods. Eliza Gilkyson opens her latest disc of political charged anthems, 2020, with “Promises to Keep”, alluding to Frost’s ode. But Gilkyson’s song turns up the heat. “We’re on fire,” she sings, referring to the current state of national and international affairs. Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance. Her reversing of the imagery serves to show that we are not alone.
Gilkyson tempers her ardent passion for social justice in the calmness of her delivery. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul. She invokes history as a guide. She transforms a 1952 letter from Woody Guthrie to Fred Trump (President Donald Trump’s father) about integrating his apartment buildings into a “Beach Haven”, which calls for a more utopian world where all can “work and play together”. She covers Pete Seeger’s anti-war hymn popular during the ’60s, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, in a quiet voice to suggest that while wars never seem to end, neither is the hope of those who oppose them in their quest for a better future.
“We Are Not Alone”, Gilkyson reminds us. Her stated aim is “to transform the overwhelming feelings of grief and anxiety into motivated, inspired action”. The self-penned tracks on this album mostly offer hope amidst the heartache of modern times. She knows the best way to attack evil is through community and with “Peace in Our Hearts”. Gilkyson is more concerned with pointing the way forward than casting blame.
However, she’s not afraid to address how the greedy powers that be have manipulated the masses. The ruling classes have turned people against each other through false religion, racism, sexism, and destroyed the natural grandeur of the earth in the process. The world is a beautiful place full of rainbows, snow-covered mountains, and unfolding seasons. There’s no reason the planet can’t remain lovely if we stop screwing it up. Gilkyson may be hopeful, but she is also a realist.
The album’s other cover is a martial reading of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Gilkyson warns us of the drastic consequences of not acting against warmongers, polluters, and profiteers. Sadly, Dylan’s lyrics are even more apt today than they were during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War has lasted longer than its duration into a forever war where conflagrations can happen anytime, anywhere.
2020 was recorded in Gilkyson’s hometown of Austin and produced by her son Cisco Ryder. Ryder also plays drums and employed a host of talented local musicians including Mike Hardwick on guitars, Chris Maresh on bass, Bukka Allen on keyboards, Warren Hood on fiddle, and Kym Warner on mandolin. Betty Soo supplies harmony vocals and is aided by the WEWIM female choir of Austin. The self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” has suffered egregious losses of late, including the cancellation of South by Southwest and the closing of all of its music venues due to coronavirus. Gilkyson’s latest opus reminds us of how much the Texas capital has given to the world through music. You don’t need 20/20 vision to see how timely 2020 is.