Eliza Gilkyson has been making records for nearly two decades, but Hard Times In Babylon is a revelation, a bracing song cycle about the challenges of balancing art and eros. Like Lucinda Williams, she sings with a scratchy, wounded sensuality, suggesting a wise and generous soul beneath a rough and tumble surface. And she supports her erudite, soul-searching lyrics with catchy, hummable melodies.
The gutty, up-tempo opening track establishes “The Beauty Way” as an insightful, effective metaphor, telling us with clarity and conviction that Gilkyson plays for high stakes. For her, creating music is not a way of looking at the world, but a life-and-death struggle in its own right.
Though she bases her insights on intense self-scrutiny, Gilkyson is never self-indulgent. From her candid, caustic confessions, we glean basic truths and sound advice, such as how to believe in love while retaining a healthy skepticism. On “Walk Away From Love”, she sings: “I got a foolish heart but I’m not an idiot/I don’t trust the world of man but I still believe in love/People hide from the truth but I can’t live like that.”
Gilkyson acknowledges her own quirks and eccentricities, and admits to a weakness for men she should avoid (“You’re so beautiful, you don’t give a damn/you’re everything I’ve wanted in a man,” she sings in “Twisted”). But her ultimate goal, which may or may not be attainable, is admirable: to achieve a kind of reciprocity, a relationship stripped of pretense yet full of promise, as she ponders in “Flatline: “Maybe by the time he gets here he won’t be a prince anymore, and I won’t be such a fool.”