From the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PAT MORAN

Before Beginning, a recovered cache of John Gorka’s earliest studio recordings from 1985, is subtitled The Unreleased I Know. Thirty years ago, Gorka decided to shelve these ten songs, nine of which appeared two years later as better-known versions on his official debut album, 1987’s I Know (Red House). He quips in the liner notes of Before Beginning that this collection is “the I Know nobody knew.”

But that shouldn’t tag this set of demos as a mere curio for completists.


These early versions, appearing as kind-hearted sketches and confessionals filtered through a perpetual outsider’s spyglass, are no less solid than their better-known variants. Jim Rooney’s production adds ribbons of pure-toned electric guitar and arching alto saxophone in an amalgam of neo-traditional country and E Street Band-style rock.

It’s crowded, but the production sells the songs. “Down in Milltown,” for example, chugs at an accelerated pace through swooping pedal steel as Gorka’s spiraling acoustic guitar is burnished and tight.

“I Know” boasts serpentine guitars and rim-shot percussion, while “Blues Palace” slips Gorka’s percussive acoustic and fine-grained baritone between coiling stabs of electric guitar. In contrast, the surreal gem “Branching Out,” where Gorka imagines himself as a tree, is stripped down and direct.


Had Gorka released Before Beginning as planned, it would have been a solid start. He’s confident here and his songs soar. Only he knows why they needed to take another tack. But in revisiting his false start, Gorka gives us the opportunity to hear once-familiar tunes with fresh ears.


This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.