Album: Jonathan Wilson, Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)
Friday 05 August 2011
Everything goes in circles, everything comes around again, and at the moment one of the more prominent trends in music is a fascination with the folk- and country-rock sounds of the early 1970s, the singer-songwriter boom based around Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, where the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell and sundry Mamas and Papas laid the foundations for the colossal success of such as The Eagles.
Like Fleet Foxes and Icelandic singer Kalli (see review), North Carolinan songwriter Jonathan Wilson has developed a strong affiliation with that era and that sound, which he has attempted to re-create here helped by members of The Jayhawks and Vetiver, alongside old-school hippie stalwarts like keyboardist Barry Goldberg and percussionist Gary Mallaber. Wilson has a vinyl, analogue sensibility – the album was conceived as a double-vinyl rather than single-CD package – which oozes warmly through Gentle Spirit, right from the title-track's opening piano and acoustic guitar motifs, bonded together by the hazy fluting of mellotron. His hushed, breathy vocal embodies the gentle spirit itself, its incantatory warmth affirming a pure faith in music as he frets about how "The powers are killing the paupers/Some might get a gun/However, gentle spirit find our hearts".
This concern, about how to reconcile one's desire for inner peace with our rage at worldly events, runs through the album, most directly in "Can We Really Party Today?". Wilson sketches a bucolic idyll before softly brooding organ enters as he poses the title query. Isn't it a time, he wonders, for re-creation, in the sense of rebuilding, rather than recreation? Likewise, in "Waters Down", a fluttering vista of guitar arpeggios, flute and organ conveys a paradise in jeopardy. "Modern world a nasty mystery, turn it round, turn it round," he sings. "Natural world she needs our energy."
This hippie pantheism ultimately holds sway over Wilson's attitude. "Natural Rhapsody" evokes the Edenic paradise in a languorous slow waltz, guitars rippling over swells of drums, like waves lapping gently on the shore. And in "Desert Raven", sublime twin-guitar lines soar up, then spiral down, over fatalistic chords reminiscent of Neil Young's "Down by the River", as Wilson lionises the bird: "The raven who flies through the desert sky is wiser than you or me... the desert raven, he has poetry". Elsewhere, a robin, and an oak tree are employed as rustic metaphors for his emotions in "The Way I Feel", and the general mood of bucolic euphoria eventually overflows with "Magic Everywhere".
It's not entirely successful, however, but in a way the negatives betoken deeper positives, particularly in the way that the weaker tracks are those which most clearly reflect their origins. The overlong closer "Valley of the Silver Moon" too openly betrays its roots in Neil Young's longer reverie-jams, while "Canyon in the Rain" is evanescent and amorphous enough to have come from David Crosby's overrated solo debut. But thankfully, the further Wilson gets from his heroes, the better he gets.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Gentle Spirit; Can We Really Party Today?; Desert Raven; Waters Down
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
- 5 Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
This is what a film sex scene actually looks like on set (mostly awkward)
Taylor Swift, 1989 - album review: Pop star shows 'promising signs of maturity'
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational but still sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth sent home in double firing
Breaking Bad season 6 hoax: Vince Gilligan has not confirmed a new series
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are