This new record from Grammy-nominated folk favorite Eliza Gilkyson hits the songwriter sweet spot.
We always love new music from an old friend — especially when that longtime friend is folk goddess Eliza Gilkyson. Her new album, Songs From the River Wind, has scored big with fans: It’s currently No. 2 on the folk charts and Top 40 on the Americana album chart.
And it’s a hit with music critics: “A heartfelt homage in its entirety, Songs from the River Wind is, in fact, one of the most evocative offerings imaginable. It is, to sum up, a most exquisite collection.” (American Songwriter). “The dreamy pedal steel guitar and warm, easygoing vocals make this a perfect ode to the sweeping beauty of the American West.” (Glide) “Every track on Songs From the River Wind sparkles and shines in the light of Gilkyson’s evocative songwriting ...” (No Depression). “A pastoral ode to simpler times, a life shaped by the love of the land, it’s a truly wonderful evocation of the foundations of her heart and hearth, perhaps best listened to at twilight and letting it carry you away to the rivers and hills it so beautifully celebrates.” (Folk Radio UK).
As for our own appraisal, we’re so transported by this new crop of songs that we just want to head to Gilkyson country, ride horses in the high desert Sangre de Cristos by day, and sing around crackling campfires under starry New Mexico skies by night.
Ripped straight from the press materials: “Inspired by memories of characters and events that birthed her enduring love affair with the West, the songs span 40 years — from originals to vintage classics — and culminates with her recent decision to relocate permanently to Taos, where she’s sinking down deep roots at long last. With a nod to her dad, folksinger Terry Gilkyson and his 1950s folk group The Easy Riders, who recorded original and traditional folk songs with a distinctive Western flavor, Eliza joined forces with her old friend Don Richmond to produce the record, enlisting Don’s much loved Southwest band The Rifters to sing backup harmonies. The group shines on Eliza’s version of The Easy Riders’ version of the traditional tune ‘Wanderin.’”
We talked with Gilkyson from her home in the Taos countryside about her new record, what she loves about her New Mexico home, and getting in the saddle for her new video for “Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me.”
Cowboys & Indians: Tell us a little about the new record and how it came together.
Eliza Gilkyson: The whole record is really a collection of stories that reflect my lifelong infatuation with the Old West, people and places I have loved from childhood into adulthood as I continued to wander and explore this part of the country. I was inspired to make this record when I decided to return to Taos, New Mexico and sink down permanent roots in our old adobe hacienda with orchard, pasture and field at the foot of a sheltering mountain. I wanted to celebrate my homecoming to this place that is so meaningful to me.
C&I: Favorite parts in the lyrics? In the music?
Gilkyson: I am very partial to the three traditional folk songs that I rewrote from a woman's standpoint since so many of the old songs are from a man's point of view. It was really fun to shift the perspective in these venerable old songs.
C&I: How about that fun and silly video?
Gilkyson: I had so much fun making this video with the Rifters, a popular Southwestern band who produced and played on my record. Rod Taylor of the Rifters was the head wrangler at the Philmont Ranch in Cimarron for 40 years, and his friends let us use their venerable old ranch property for the video. Rod let me ride his very willing cowpony “Lucky,” who patiently put up with our shenanigans. It was a gorgeous fall day, and we had a lot of laughs, I got to ride a great horse, and the sky was that New Mexico blue, the air sage-scented — perfection! The indoor dance scene was shot a few months later at the wonderful old community dancehall Anglada’s in Taos, and the local dancers turned out on a very cold day for the shoot, about 26 degrees in the building with no heat. But we made it work!
C&I: You’re based in New Mexico, so the West (the Taos variety) is part and parcel of your life. How does it show up in your music?
Gilkyson: The entire record is a tribute to the Old West and my travels in search of my true home, ranging from the Badlands of Wyoming to the Rio Grande in New Mexico, finally finding that home along the mountains and rivers that I have grown to love so deeply here in Taos. The music celebrates that beauty and my affection for the land and for the people who touched my life in the West, some of them sadly no longer with us.
C&I: How did you fare and what did you do during lockdown?
Gilkyson: We just plunged ourselves into this property, improving our irrigating chops, harvesting our orchard, putting up fruit, and walking the trails around our house. We felt incredibly fortunate to have this place to retreat to and create a home here. Musically I found some satisfaction in doing ongoing live-stream performances from my funky adobe garage, which gave me a sense of still staying connected to the music base. I haven’t toured in over two years, only doing local shows, but we hope to change that!
C&I: When you’re not on the road with music, what are you doing?
Gilkyson: Appreciating Taos completely! Slowing down for the first time in my adult life. Stopping to smell the sagebrush and watch the changing light and the sunsets. Fixing up this 100-year-old house, which ... “needs work.”
C&I: You come from a musical family. What was it like growing up in your house?
Gilkyson: My dad was a very charismatic, funny, and fun songwriter who also had a more complex side. We sang a lot. He threw us into nature at an early age. And he was very egalitarian, an appreciator of the natural world who loved fishing, writing songs, and roaming the West. He planted those seeds in all of us kids. It wasn’t always a bed of roses at our house, to continue the metaphor, but in general I’d say we were pretty darn lucky.
C&I: I have to fan girl for a minute on your guitarist brother, Tony, and some of my favorite bands that he was part of: X and Lone Justice. Do you guys ever make music together, and what does that sound like?
Gilkyson: Tony was living in California for the X and Lone Justice years, so I missed out on that connection, but of course, as you know he is an incredibly talented musician and songwriter. He has played beautiful guitar on a number of my records, and I have recorded several of his songs. He has always been a lot cooler than I! We have some funny musical history including a band called Silverchief, Wild Dog of the North, where he played a double drum kit and did really long drum solos and I sang terrible lyrics written by the band’s lead guitarist — definitely cringe-worthy. There are photos. We have done the occasional show together, but it has been a number of years since we tried that.
C&I: When we’re in Taos, what should we be sure to do?
Gilkyson: The hike up to Williams Lake is pretty great, at 10,000-plus feet. But my favorite trail is the Columbine Trail between Questa and Red River. It’s a gradual uphill climb that winds along a beautiful mountain stream with easy creek crossings and lots of rewards the higher you get, but even a short jaunt is lovely. You have to have blue-corn enchiladas at Orlando’s and drive the high road from Santa Fe to Taos through the old villages that time forgot. Eat homemade ice cream at Taos Cow in Arroyo Seco and shop the little secondhand stores there. Go see Jimmy Stadler playing at Sabroso — lots of locals turn out for the hang. Go see the Rio Grande Gorge on the road to Tres Piedras. Visit Taos Pueblo for some real Taos history. Buy local art!
C&I: What’s next for you?
Gilkyson: Starting to play out, local shows with the Rifters — lots of fun doing that. Tours coming up in May and June, and some festivals in the summer. Slowly getting back into it, Covid willing and the creek don’t rise!
“Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me” Video Premiere
Stream/order Eliza Gilkyson’s album here.
Photography: (Cover image) courtesy Robert Jensen; (Album art) courtesy Bill Sincavage; (Live image) courtesy Tim Reese