Those coloured balls bouncing down the streets of San Francisco in Sony's ad campaign for its Bravia TV set have bagged José Gonzalez a surprise hit with the single "Heartbeats". The young Swedish-Argentinian guitar maestro and singer joins the likes of The Concretes and Susannah and the Magic Orchestra in swelling the ranks of fine Scandinavian acts, following the "quiet is the new loud" ethos minted by the Norwegian Kings of Convenience.
His first solo releases came a couple of years ago, but with sales of the album Veneer enjoying a healthy boost in the wake of the TV commercial, Gonzalez's ascent has accelerated to the point where this reticent and retiring solo guitarist with vocals redolent of the laid-back nerviness of James Taylor or Elliot Smith (others have mentioned Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills and Nash; you get the picture) can sell out the Shepherds Bush Empire, albeit seated throughout.
Sitting with his head bowed over his instrument for the duration, his wispy beard and cropped dark hair giving him the look of a young Cat Stevens, Gonzalez plays himself deep into the singular subtleties of his work. There are virtually no solos or breaks; each song circulates a verse-chorus hybrid around intricate, repeated figures; his technique encompasses flamenco, bossa and even Argentine tango inflections.
With barely a word delivered to a rapt audience, many of whom are already familiar with his distinctive songbook, Gonzalez's consummate fingerwork does all the talking, mixing Latin blood and Scandinavian temperament in a combination of hypnotic, plucked and hammered melodies that are solidly built on some ringing, raga-like basslines.
"I'm sorry I'm not talking much today, but I feel very good," he tells us near the end, and the rustling hush of a surprisingly attentive full house at this normally boisterous rock venue is tangible during the likes of the instrumental "Suggestions". The first half-dozen numbers - from the chiming chord-work of the opening "Deadweight on Velveteen" to the mid-tempo "All You Deliver", with its circling, mesmerising bass figures - are performed solo, though you'd reckon there was another man hidden away in there, plucking at the strings alongside him.
Half-way through, he's joined by a light dusting of percussion, handclaps and harmony vocals from two band-members, but the ambience changes little. Kylie's hit "Hand on Your Heart" is a highlight, followed by a great version of the Massive Attack song "Teardrops". "Sensing Owls" sounds another potential hit. Indeed, it's possible to feel a touch cynical about the advertising/endorsement potential that seems built into such a song.
But Gonzalez is the real thing, and his mixing of wistful folk and West Coast singer-songwriter ambience with a Scandinavian coolness is singularly absorbing.Reuse content