Review: Eliza Gilkyson issues a call to action on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson, "2020" (Red House)

We can still congregate in song, as Eliza Gilkyson shows on "2020."

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The Austin, Texas-based folk singer recorded the politically charged 10-tune set as an election-year call for solidarity against forces of division and hatred. As it happens, the album is being released in a moment of physical distancing, making Gilkyson’s singalong anthems of unity and community even more powerful.

"2020" rides an undercurrent of outrage, and the band, led by guitarist Mike Hardwick, gives the arrangements a punch to match the lyrics. But Gilkyson’s lean-in alto isn’t strident; instead, she invites others to join her in song.

"We are conjuring our forces, and coming face to face with every fear. But there is comfort in our voices, reminding us of all that we hold dear," she sings on "We Are Not Alone." It’s as if she foresaw a pandemic.

"My Heart Aches" laments complacency, "Sooner or Later" forecasts a revolution, and "Promises to Keep" is a call to act, making them like chapters in a book. Gilkyson finds fresh meaning in Bob Dylan’s "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" — speaking of prescient — and even in Pete Seeger’s creaky "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

And then there’s the extraordinary "Beach Haven," with Gilkyson putting to music a 1952 letter Woody Guthrie wrote complaining about segregationist policies at a Brooklyn apartment complex owned by Fred Trump, father of the current president.

"We could shake hands together and get together," goes the chorus, words more poignant now than ever.

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