John Gorka

John Gorka’s new album Bright Side of Down includes this fun, energetic song, “Holed Up Mason City,” about trying to get home during blizzard via I-35 in northern Iowa. The record will release on 4 March 2014 via Red House Records.

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From the album information:

In Bright Side of Down, Gorka offers a complete listen, with arrangements built around vocal and guitar and songs that vary in type, tempo and feel. The 11 original songs and one cover (by his late friend Bill Morrissey, “She’s That Kind of Mystery”) explore broad themes of winter-to-spring: of unforgiving edges, saving beauty, and being at the mercy of larger forces. The songs adjust like eyes to darkness, opening up to let in more light.

“I think my experience living in Minnesota has brought a certain perspective to this record. You’ll find it in the images but also in the idea that in spite of bitter cold and wind, people find ways to hold each other up and keep going.”

The album opens with the true story of trying to get home in a blinding Iowa blizzard (the catchy, uptempo “Holed Up Mason City” — Mason City, IA is famous for being the city where Richie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly’s plane took off after after a show in Clear Lake for what would be their fatal last flight (and no, there is no “Big Bopper” diner in Mason City) — and ends with a reflection on the spring that seems so far away with “Really Spring.” He experiences “Procrastination Blues,” shares the charming “Honeybee,” written for his daughter, and the timely story of “High Horse,” set in a crumbling neighborhood where the good jobs are no more.

There’s a greater intimacy to these performances that reflects the way the album was made. Gorka composed the songs on the road and at his home studio before bringing them into the Brewhouse Studio in Minneapolis. He’d record demos and let them “rest” to see if they aged well. The result is an album in the true sense of the word — a meticulously sequenced group of songs that works as a whole.

“The process was different,” he says of the sessions for Bright Side of Down. “I’d go in a little bit at a time by myself for maybe two or three hours, once or twice a week, get a performance of one song and see how it held up over time. At home, I’d try things and play instruments I had no business playing, and if the parts didn’t work, nobody had to hear them; I felt a lot freer to experiment. But since I often perform by myself, I wanted the songs to reflect the feel and presence of my vocal and guitar. Some of the songs lend themselves to more elaborate arrangements, but the vocal is really prominent in all of them because that’s where the story is told.”

After recording the bones of the songs, Gorka brought in producer/engineer Rob Genedak and a cast of top musicians including Jeff Victor (keyboards), JT Bates (drums), Enrique Toussaint (electric bass) and others. “Rob is a drummer and was able to put things together as well,” John says. “Some of the things that Rob did on “Procrastination Blues” — he recorded his foot keeping time on the floor of the control room while he was slapping his chest — ended up sticking and becoming part of the final mix. There were experimental parts we did that came to be the ‘real’ thing.” The songs sparkle with John’s characteristic wit, humanity and insight enhanced by artful contributions of the other players and singers.

Bright Side of Down is a rich listening experience, an album you can listen to and hear something new each time. It’s personal while hitting a universal nerve, a quality John Gorka has made his signature, with a group of songs that you’ll keep thinking about long after the album ends.

Gorka is on the road constantly. Check out a show:

Jan 16, 2014 Red Dragon Listening Room Baton Rouge, LA
Jan 17, 2014 30A Songwriters Festival Santa Rosa Beach, FL
Jan 23, 2014 McMillan Memorial Library Wisconsin Rapids, WI
Jan 30, 2014 Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Pittsburgh, PA
Jan 31, 2014 Happy Days Visitor Center Boston Heights, OH
Feb 1, 2014 Stuart’s Opera House Nelsonville, OH
Feb 2, 2014 Mountain Stage/WV Public Radio at Cultural Center Capitol Complex Charleston, WV
Feb 6, 2014 The Rendezvous Chico, CA
Feb 7, 2014 Pilgrim Congregational Church Redding, CA
Feb 8, 2014 Freight and Salvage Berkeley, CA
Feb 15, 2014 Hopkins Center for the Arts Hopkins, MN
Feb 22, 2014 Swallow Hill Music Hall Denver, CO
Mar 6, 2014 Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Ashland, OR
Mar 7, 2014 Alberta Rose Theatre Portland, OR
Mar 8, 2014 The Triple Door Seattle, WA
Mar 9, 2014 St. James Hall Vancouver, British Columbia
Mar 14, 2014 McCabe’s Guitar Shop Santa Monica, CA
Mar 15, 2014 San Dieguito United Methodist Church Encinitas, CA
Mar 16, 2014 Fiddler’s Crossing Tehachapi, CA
Mar 28, 2014 The Sellersville Theater 1894 Sellersville, PA
Mar 29, 2014 The Birchmere Alexandria, VA
Apr 3, 2014 Flying Goose Brewpub New London, NH
Apr 4, 2014 Chandler Music Hall Randolph, VT
Apr 5, 2014 Center for Arts in Natick Natick, MA
Apr 6, 2014 St. Lawrence Arts at St. Lawrence Church Portland, ME
Apr 24, 2014 CSPS Cedar Rapids, IA
Apr 25, 2014 City Winery Chicago, IL
Apr 26, 2014 Wheeler Community Arts Center Indianapolis, IN
Apr 27, 2014 The Ark Ann Arbor, MI
May 8, 2014 Auburn Public Theater Auburn, NY
May 9, 2014 Eighth Step at Proctors Schenectady, NY
May 10, 2014 Walkabout Clearwater Coffeehouse White Plains, NY
May 16, 2014 Spring Gulch Folk Festival New Holland, PA
Jun 6, 2014 Minstrel Coffeehouse at Morristown Unitarian Fellowship Morristown, NJ
Jun 7, 2014 Congregational Church of Huntington Centerport, NY
Jun 28, 2014 Crossings at Carnegie Zumbrota, MN
Sep 5, 2014 Rubin Museum of Art New York, NY
Sep 20, 2014 Chatfield Center for the Arts Chatfield, MN
Dec 5, 2014 Fiddle & Bow Society at Community Arts Cafe Winston-Salem , NC
Dec 7, 2014 Mountain Spirit Coffeehouse at UU Asheville Asheville, NC
Feb 20, 2015 Metropolis Performing Arts Center Arlington Heights , IL