's The Gypsy Life
is designed to give fans new incentive to purchase the physical product, rather than just download MP3s online. Essentially, it's a greatest hits collection, presented over the course of two DVDs and an audio CD. Featuring Susan Werner
, Amelia K. Spicer, Russ Rentler and Michael Manring.
What's so cool about this album/DVD is that it gives you four differnet ways of experiencing the music. In a time when music is becoming less and less an intimate experience between artist and audience, and more a detached, song-by-song experience you get from the Internet, it's great to see artists exploring formats like this.
One DVD is basically the visual version of half of the audio CD. The camera is set on Gorka and his all-star band as they sit in a half-circle in a recording studio somewhere. There are plenty of close-ups on Gorka and his fellow musicians as they play their way through a handful of songs, including "Mercy of the Wheels," "I'm From New Jersey," and "Stranger With Your Hair."
Backstage Footage and Outtakes
The other DVD (on the flipside of the aforementioned video) features outtakes from the same recording session, interviews with the band, background info about about, for example, Susan Werner (who lends her vocals and piano playing to several tunes) came to be friends and colleagues. There are a few shots of Gorka performing in a live venue, a couple of awkward music videos, and some amusing backstage footage.
For hard-core Gorka fans, this will be the main draw. He's an excellent story teller and it's always nice to learn a little bit more about where songs came from. The backstage footage is really the best part, even though the sound goes a bit wonky now and then. Presumably, this effect was intentional, as it only serves to showcase the amount of activity (or, in some cases, lack thereof) that goes on backstage.
The Audio CD
As I already mentioned, The Gypsy Life
is essentially a greatest hits collection, featuring some of his best work from the past two decades. John Gorka
is, after all, one of the best contemporary songwriters at work these days. His deep, lyrical narratives like "Houses in the Fields"
and "Branching Out"
capture more than just commentary on an ever-changing world. They also manage to personalize these issues in a way that's alternately silly and profoundly moving.
As with any greatest hits compilation, it also makes for an interesting narrative on its own, as it does span Gorka's 20-year career, with all its evolutions and his growth as a songwriter. That said, the older songs are as poignant now as his more recent tunes from last year's In the Margins.
The Bottom Line
This CD-DVD set would probably be a bit much for someone not already familiar with Gorka's work. Although, a lot of the background, backstage footage and biographical info on the interactive DVD would be a nice introduction for someone who's fairly confident that they'll enjoy his songs.
For long-time fans, though, it's a great collection of some of his best work, backed by an impeccable band. It is, after all, considered a "collectors edition," and will be an excellent addition to the CD library of any fan of contemporary singer-songwriters. After all, in terms of singer-songwriters, you really can't do much better than John Gorka.