REVIEWS
from
WDFH-FM's Music Department

Melanie, reviewed by Josephine Arce
John Gorka,
reviewed by Vinny Cohan


Melanie at the Turning Point

Josephine Arce, WDFH-FM 90.3
Friday, March 26, 2004

Flash back to my early childhood...roller skating in front of my Bronx, NY apartment building with a radio in someone’s open window on playing a favorite song, Brand New Key. I had no idea who sang it, wrote it or produced it. The only thing I understood was that it was a great song and that I was roller-skating and I loved it. 

Flash forward to March 2004.  Cuper Vargas interviews Melanie on WDFH on Wednesday, March 17.  Then WDFH's Anne Leighton invites me to see Melanie perform the following Sunday at The Turning Point in Piermont, NY.  The childhood memory tucked in the back of my slightly twisted brain and hoping I would hear the song I loved from my youth, I attended the show.  I have seen many concerts, and usually when it comes to an artist or band that has been around for as long as Melanie has I am slightly jaded in my expectations. Let’s just say that my expectations were blown away, to put it mildly.  The sold out audience who came not only from the local area, but also as far away as Kentucky and England was just as blown away as I was.

Melanie is an intelligent, funny, vibrant and extremely talented singer and songwriter.  The show I witnessed had just two performers, Melanie and her son Beau, both on acoustic guitars, which proceeded to light up the room with their performance.  Presenting many new songs from her upcoming release, Paled By Dimmer Light, Melanie worked the room with an intensity that I have not seen in quite some time.  She became the “Folk Diva” which was on the sign outside when you entered the Turning Point.  From the first number all the way to a very amusing rendition of “Brand New Key,” in which she discussed the song which would, as she described it,  “haunt her for the rest of her life,” she had the crowd in the palm of her hand.  During the rousing version of “Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma,” once she was finished with the French translation she broke out in a German translation which was hysterical.   In the tender “To Be The One” from the new CD, you could have heard a pin drop outside. The audience sat in amazement as Melanie sang one song after another with passion and a pure love of what she was doing on that stage.  As a music fan, I was unaware of the tremendous song writing abilities that she has had her entire career and continues to this day.  Her style is hard to describe as she can be folksy on one song and down and dirty blues on the next, which is very hard to do well — but she does.

Her new CD is filled with songs of love, coping with life, hope, and humor.  In the tune “I Tried To Die Young,” there is a tongue-in-cheek barb at our youth obsessed society.  Many of the songs on “Paled By Dimmer Light” could be performed by anyone of today’s current artists and be played on the video music channels.  There are relevant lyrics with wonderful music and deserve to be heard.  I can only hope that people will realize what a talent Melanie is and bring her front and center where she can shine for the entire world to see.  I highly recommend catching a show the next time she is around as you will be in for a treat.  And if you turn around and see me sitting behind you don’t be surprised, just look for the roller skates on the floor.


John Gorka Pleases in Piermont

Vinny Cohan, WDFH-FM 90.3
January 18, 2004

I had the pleasure of seeing John Gorka at the Turning Point Café in Piermont, New York, on Saturday night, January 17th.   With the temperature outside hovering near freezing, it seemed downright Spring-like compared to our recent weather.  It’s ironic that the Minnesota-based Gorka’s arrival coincided with a welcomed thaw.   His excellent performance in the intimate Turning Point setting added to the evening’s warmth.

Right from the beginning, Gorka connected with the crowd by playing an old song, “Like My Watch” (I Know – 1987), a fun tune in which the singer plaintively describes his flaws.  “Like my watch, I’m a little slow, and I don’t always go when I’m s’posed to,” Gorka sang, later pointing out that he wrote the song at the tender age of nineteen, and that it has become truer over the years.  Throughout the night, the theme of aging “less that gracefully” was repeated, resonating well with many of the gray and graying audience members.

Gorka played alone, with an acoustic guitar and an occasional foray behind the synthesized piano keyboard, showcasing his impressive songwriting and vocal skills.  Standout performances included several from his most recent Red House Records release, “Old Futures Gone,” including “Always” (“a jaunty song of sorrow”), “Dogs and Thunder,” (a dark look at doomed relationships) and the album’s title track.   Gorka took audience requests (both mental and verbal!), delivering excellent renditions of the dark and menacing “Raven in the Storm” (Land of the Bottom Line - 1990), and “Houses in the Fields” (Jack’s Crows – 1991), a song lamenting the loss of American farms to suburban homebuilding.

With his trademark affected and absentminded stage persona in full form, Gorka provided ongoing comic relief throughout the show.  During “People My Age” (The Company You Keep – 2001), a hilarious description of how people get “gross” when they get old, he explained to the audience that he has to “concentrate real hard not to make eye contact during this song.”  He also described scrapple, a breakfast staple from his time in Bethlehem, PA, as “Spam without the health benefits.”  Near the end of the show, while introducing an inspiring version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” Gorka encouraged the audience to sing along.  He pointed out that there had already been several sing-alongs that night, but he had forgotten to tell us.

Two of the night’s high points contrasted with the comic banter.  “Let Them In” (The Company You Keep – 2001), sets to music a beautiful and moving poem written by a military nurse in WWII, asking St. Peter to let the soldiers who died into heaven so they can enjoy all the things they missed on earth.  Likewise, Gorka’s sole encore was “Soldier After All” (Old Futures Gone – 2003), a song about having to fight for what is right.  It was dedicated to the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife.

It’s always refreshing to see a performer who enjoys his or her work.  Unlike many artists who tour primarily as a vehicle to promote record releases, John Gorka seems to thrive on the tour and audience dynamic.  Audiences recognize this and the result is an informal and comfortable experience, almost as if the artist was hanging around your living room, playing songs for you and your friends.

Gorka has scaled back his touring schedule in recent years, allowing him to spend more time with his wife and young children in Minnesota.  He is scheduled to be back in our area in March, at the Berrie Performing Arts Center in Mahwah, NJ, and will also appear at the annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, NY in July.

Photo courtesy of johngorka.com used with perermission