Album Review: The Nocturne Diaries by Eliza Gilkyson
Very Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
According to Eliza Gilkyson's liner notes for The Nocturne Diaries, this album is a collection of "songs that came to me in the middle of the night," adding that "the songs that come in the night are very different than the daylight songs. " And sure enough, The Nocturne Diaries features several songs that deal with dark and troubling things, including "An American Boy," which concerns a deeply troubled teenager with a short fuse; "The Ark," a first person account of Noah and his mission; "Not My Home," an enigmatic story of a family in chaos, and "World Without End," which contemplates a culture on the verge of collapse. The Nocturne Diaries isn't one of Gilkyson's more cheerful efforts, but it isn't grim or morbid for its own sake; even the darkest moments here are warmed by a genuine compassion for the lost souls who sometimes populate her stories, and a very real concern for the world we all live in is woven through every tune.
When I was young I used to believe that Led Zeppelin line about “There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” Now that I am older I have come to learn we are all on the same road headed to the same place: death. It’s a dark notion. Does it really matter how one lives if all that waits is darkness? These are night thoughts, the kind Eliza Gilkyson sings and writes about on her 20th release, The Nocturne Diaries.
Eliza Gilkyson is a well-established darling of the Austin, Texas folk scene, and this album builds on a long career, and 20 albums, of solid American folk music. Like any good folk record, The Nocturne Diaries explores timely social and political issues, with songs about troubled youth and abuse survivors ("An American Boy," "This House is Not My Home"), but these pieces lack the raw immediacy that makes politically-tinged folk music work. Highlights of the album include "The Red Rose and the Thorn," with Gilkyson trying (and nailing) her first electric guitar solo, "Touchstone," which brings in that most folky of instruments, the autoharp, and the pared-down final track, "All Right Here," with Gilkyson's voice buoyed up by John Egenes' pedal steel and Weissenborn.
At the age of 64 and with over a dozen studio releases to her name, folksinger/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson is tuned in enough to pay attention to her muse, regardless of when and where it appears. As this album’s title implies, that is often in the middle of the night. These dozen tunes, all but two penned or co-written by Gilkyson, are riddled with lyrics that refer to late evening themes.
Hopefully there will be a chapter in the Great English-Language Songbook for veteran performing songwriters who – while never quite reinventing the form the way Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro or Leonard Cohen have done – consistently married strong, inventive melodies with cliché-free, descriptive lyrics grounded in both the tangible world and their own feelings toward it. And, while not musically conservative, they avoided new sounds for new sounds’ sake – preferring to have confidence in their strengths and influences as they constantly honed and improved their craft. John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Rosanne Cash all belong there—and so does Eliza Gilkyson, whose new album is The Nocturne Diaries (Red House Records).
Eliza Gilkyson The Nocturne Diaries (Red House) "Songs that come in the night are very different than daylight songs," claims Eliza Gilkyson. Except for two covers, the veteran Austin folksinger penned the entirety of The Nocturne Diaries after dark, some of its compositions even forcing her awake to deal with subjects like an adolescent with a gun ("An American Boy") and the biblical flood as a metaphor for current economic and environmental crises ("The Ark"). That's not to say it's all dark or shades of gray.