“Love it is an apple core, before the fruit was beautiful, now it is a circle, life and death a circle, the circle is a cadence,” Jonathan Wilson maintains on the languid hippie anthem “Gentle Spirit”. You dig? He digs us. He tells us so.
Wilson, his hair drooping down like a basset hound, is a singer-songwriter born out of his time – that time being early 1970s California. He sings about nature, gently berates the bourgeoisie and celebrates living “wild and free”. If, in a dark room, you squeeze your eyes shut and crank up the central heating very high you can even imagine that you’re lounging supine in Laurel Canyon when listening to his gorgeous album Gentle Spirit. It’s less easy picking up that blissful vibe on a freezing cold night in King’s Cross. However, the impressive Wilson earnestly tries his best, replicating and sometimes bettering the golden-hued loveliness of his album.
Wilson, born in North Carolina, has been around for a while, producing for the likes of Bonnie Prince Billy and the US folk-rock band Dawes, playing on Jenny Lewis and Vetiver records and jamming in his Californian pad with Wilco and Jakob Dylan. The 37-year-old tried to release Frankie Ray in 2007, but due to some legal problems it was only released on iTunes. So Gentle Spirit was his first official release last year, and it’s a suitably generous (over 70 minutes long, with most of the 13 songs touching seven minutes) record. And there’s lots of languorous wigging out tonight; at times Wilson and his accomplished band resemble Captain Beefheart or Lynyrd Skynyrd cranking it up on The Old Grey Whistle Test.
At times, they stray perilously close to prog-rock self-indulgence and some of the hippie sentiments (“Modern world a nasty mystery, turn it round, turn it round/ Natural world she needs our energy,” he spouts on “Waters Down”) are hard to stomach but a lot of his material is also transcendentally lovely; particularly the ode to mellowness “Can We Really Party Today?” and the exquisite “Desert Raven” (“The raven who flies through the desert sky is wiser than you or me... the desert raven, he has poetry”) – which recalls the likes of David Crosby, Neil Young, Gary Higgins and Jackson Browne, who put in a special appearance at Wilson’s first London gig last year. Unfortunately, not tonight, though. It hardly matters as the audience politely whoop and holler to Wilson’s cockle-warming harmonies. We dig it.