Eliza Gilkyson’s signature as an artist has always been her courage. She lays it all bare, in song and on stage. She’ll cry out boldly against war, then come back with the most delicate song about longing and doubt. Through music, she shares all the hope and hurt in her heart, sensing that this personal expression validates the idea that we’re not in this alone.

Paradise Hotel built upon this pact Gilkyson has always carried with her audience — a fearlessness to look and write and feel intensely. The album is one of the most poetic of her career and captured her in full, confident stride. It’s one that looked straight in the face of fear — big, battlefield fears as well as quiet interior fear. And in its own way, it led listeners to a place of solace.

The title cut is take-you-to-your-knees beautiful — examining our compulsion to chase after so many sinking ships and shooting stars in this life, while acknowledging the elusiveness of a peace that seems so close at hand. It’s a song of extraordinary emotional, cultural and psychological depth, a poetic expression that’s more fascinated with questions and contradictions than attaining a certain, clarifying answer. Like the woman who sings it, “Paradise Hotel” was stunning in its courage and its vulnerability.

As she did in 2004’s Grammy-nominated Land of Milk and Honey, Gilkyson wrote about the Iraq war and the then-occupant of the White House, warning against manipulation in the name of religion in the scathing “Man of God.” But Paradise Hotel was, above all, a poetic, honest album, sweet-sounding but never sugar-coated despite the presence of a lullaby, “Bellarosa,” sung in Spanish to her granddaughter. The album continued Gilkyson’s unremitting exploration of love and spiritual pilgrimage.


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