Art imitating life

Music has been a family affair from the get-go for Eliza Gilkyson

NOT SO SOLO <br>Singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson brings her stripped-down music to the Chico Women’s Club and will be accompanied by her son Cisco Ryder on drums and guitarist Mike Hardwick.

Singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson brings her stripped-down music to the Chico Women’s Club and will be accompanied by her son Cisco Ryder on drums and guitarist Mike Hardwick.

Photo By Eliza Gilkyson

Preview: Eliza Gilkyson at Chico Women’s Club, Sun., Jan. 29

Texas folk singer-songwriter-guitarist Eliza Gilkyson’s voice becomes a bit subdued when her late father’s name is brought up. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Terry Gilkyson, whose songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio and Dean Martin, and who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1968 for his songwriting in the Disney animated film, The Jungle Book, passed away six years ago.

The younger Gilkyson, whose upbringing in Los Angeles included recording demos as a teenager for her father, affirmed simply that her father’s influence was “essential” to her development as a musician and songwriter. We left it at that.

And her latest record, Paradise Hotel, Gilkyson’s fourth on well-known roots label Red House Records, finds the singer-songwriter evolving into excellent form, with a singing style that at times evokes the phrasing of Bob Dylan and the rawness of Lucinda Williams.

“I think we come from the same school of hard knocks. I think we both have the same amount of miles on our tires,” Gilkyson said of Williams.

On Paradise Hotel, Gilkyson delivers a set of powerful songs, ranging from the righteous anti-Bush rocker “Man of God,” to the delicate, stirring “Requiem,” prompted by the devastating Asian tsunami in December 2004. The song also features her 30-something daughter Delia Castillo on back-up vocals: “Mother Mary, full of grace, awaken/ All our homes are gone, our loved ones taken/ Taken by the sea/ Mother Mary, calm our fears, have mercy/ Drowning in a sea of tears, have mercy … “

Interestingly, Gilkyson said Castillo, whose voice is notably pretty, has no interest in being a professional singer.

“I tell her I need her,” Gilkyson said, “And she always says, ‘I can’t do it. Thanks a lot, Mom!'”

Gilkyson was emphatic in saying of her daughter’s exquisite high harmonies on “Requiem": “I couldn’t have done it without her. She has this kind of pure voice.”

Castillo also sings backup on “Bellarosa,” a passionate gem of a song written by Gilkyson in Spanish, with the help of Castillo and her husband, Jorge.

“When I wrote that song, I’d been listening to this old-style trio who played traditional [Mexican] ballads, and I was influenced by them,” Gilkyson explained. “Three guitars, three voices in the old troubadour style.”

At one point, Gilkyson got on the subject of her curious “New Age detour,” as she called it. Back in the early ‘90s while living in Zurich, Switzerland, she worked with Swiss composer and harpist Andreas Vollenweider for two years, resulting in the album Eolian Minstrel.

Gilkyson defended Vollenweider as “a master harp player, a master musician,” adding, “I would hate to write him off as New Age.”

[Andreas] would spend hours in the studio making me do everything but what I knew. I think that questing is still in my music. I don’t think of myself as a commercial artist at all. Maybe Andreas helped me find my own voice.”

But Gilkyson concedes that living in Texas, which she has called home since 1998, has helped her more with her songwriting than her time in Switzerland.

“There’s something about the starkness here that’s caused me to really hone it down, simplify my sound.”

Gilkyson will bring her son, drummer Cisco Ryder (plays on Paradise Hotel) and guitarist Mike Hardwick on her upcoming tour.

“Guitar players come to my shows just to hear Mike,” Gilkyson pointed out proudly. “He’ll be bringing a slide and an old Gretsch electric.

“We’ll do two sets,” Gilkyson added. “The second set I take requests. It’s kind of a free-for-all.”