Godfrey Daniels is one of the oldest and most venerable music institutions in eastern Pennsylvania. A small neighborhood coffeehouse and listening room, it has long been a hangout for music lovers and aspiring musicians, and in the late 1970s, one of these was a young Moravian College student named John Gorka. Though his academic course work lay in Philosophy and History, music began to offer paramount enticements. Soon he found himself living in the club’s basement and acting as resident M.C. and soundman, encountering legendary folk troubadors like Canadian singer/songwriter Stan Rogers, Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton and Claudia Schmidt. Their brand of folk-inspired acoustic music inspired him, and before long he was performing his own songs — mostly as an opener for visiting acts. Soon he started traveling to New York City, where Jack Hardy’s legendary Fast Folk circle (a breeding ground for many a major singer/songwriter) became a powerful source of education and encouragement. Folk meccas like Texas’ Kerrville Folk Festival (where he won the New Folk Award in 1984) and Boston followed, and his stunningly soulful baritone voice and emerging songwriting began turning heads. Those who had at one time inspired him — Suzanne Vega, Bill Morrissey, Nanci Griffith, Christine Lavin, Shawn Colvin — had become his peers.
In 1987, the young Minnesota-based Red House Records caught wind of John’s talents and released his first album , I Know , to popular and critical acclaim. With unusual drive and focus, John hit the ground running and, when an offer came from Windhan Hill’s Will Ackerman in 1989, he signed with that label’s inprint, High Street Records. He proceeded to record five albums with High Street over the next seven years: Land of the Bottom Line, Jack’s Crows, Temporary Road, Out of the Valley, and Between Five and Seven. His albums and his touring (over 150 nights a year at times) brought new accolades for his craft. Rolling Stone called him “the preeminent male singer/songwriter of the new folk movement.” His rich multi-faceted songs full of depth, beauty and emotion gained increasing attention from critics and audiences across the country, as well as in Europe where his tours led him through Italy, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Switzerland and Germany.
Other performers also discovered his songwriting. His material is championed by many — to date more than a score of artists have recorded and/or performed John Gorka songs, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary Black and Maura O’Connell. He also started sharing tours with many notable friends — Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter among them. All this has brought his music to an ever-widening audience. His video for the single “When She Kisses Me” found a long-term rotation on VH-1’s “Current Country,” as well as on CMT and the Nashville Network. John also graced the stage of Austin City Limits, appeared on CNN, and has been the subject of other national pro- gramming.
Finally in 1998, after five successful recordings, and seven years at Windham Hill/High Street, John felt the need for a change and decided to return to his musical roots at Red House Records. The choice was driven, in part, by the artistic integrity that the label represents in an industry where the business of music too often takes precedence. As John says, “Red House is in it first for the music, and so am I. It’s a good place to be.”
After Yesterday represents the first fruits of that reunion and reflects John’s continuing commitment to the craft of songwriting. Longtime fans will find in its twelve songs John’s trademark twist of lyric and attention to the details that so effectively evoke a time, a place, a person, or a range of emotion. But there are also the stirrings of new musical directions with the evocative addition of percussion from Ani DiFranco’s drummer Andy Stochansky. John also shares his joy at recent changes in his life (namely a 1996 marriage and move to Minnesota, followed by the 1997 birth of a baby boy — Bocephus Mahatma Sinatra Gorka) with cuts such as “Cypress Trees,” “After Yesterday” and “When He Cries.” There is a hardened knowledge, vented and voiced in “Thorny Patch” and “Wisdom.” Story songs and character studies, “Amber Lee,” “Silvertown” and “Zuly” engage the imagination, while a song like “Heroes” invites introspection.
Though a long way from Godfrey Daniels, John Gorka is still honored to be a part of the folk tradition — energetic acoustic music that is not a trend, not a fad, but an expression of everyday life. After Yesterday is the embodiment of that expression — another classic release where his rich baritone voice and unique songcraft weave together in a way that can only be described as “Gorka.”
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