Jonathan Wilson is certainly not new to the music scene, despite Gentle Spirit being his debut solo album. Born in North Carolina, 1974, Wilson has worked with an increasing number of musical stars over the years, which has only progressed his own name further as a major player on the folk circuit.
Known for his famous recording studio in Laurel Canyon, LA, he has played and recorded with legends such as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Elvis Costello and recently Jackson Browne; as well as working alongside the likes of Wilco, The Black Crowes, Dawes and Fleet Foxes’ J. Tillman. As an artist himself, Wilson was once a member of the band Muscadine and spent several years on a solo record entitled Frankie Ray, before dropping the project in 2007.
This Summer now sees the welcoming of Jonathan Wilson’s debut album Gentle Spirit, and it certainly does not disappoint. Words such as laid-back and mellow seem somewhat designed for this kind of record, as Wilson draws influence from his many previous encounters, the blissful status of his Canyon home, and fellow West-Coast, if not more matured, folkies such as Neil Young and Crosby, Stills And Nash.
The album opens with title Gentle Spirit; setting the precedent for a record filled with smooth and smoky tones, hopeful and bewitching lyrics, and polished layers of strummed acoustic, lightly-tapped drums, and at times some utterly stunning strings, piano, and delicate percussion. Desert Raven, an 8 minute long track, begins with a simple yet fantastically catchy riff, referencing the golden lazy days of the 60s and 70s, before wandering into a lovely little solo from guitar-mastermind Wilson. What is certainly noticeable throughout the record is the beauty of each and every instrument, providing evidence for Wilson’s choice of collaborators within his work. Calling in talents such as Gary Louris from The Jayhawks, Gary Mallaber from The Steve Miller Band and Andy Cabic and Otto Hauser from Vetiver.
The whispery charm of Wilson’s voice equally adds to the easy-going vibe of this album, and the odd touch of electronics seem only necessary in order to prove it’s still 2011. Nonetheless, perhaps this is the only flaw of Gentle Spirit. The record is gentle, in fact very, and at times seems somewhat lost as it tries to find a home in the ‘Year’ category on your iTunes. But, then again, the man from North Carolina did not create this to be a bunch of mp3’s. In fact, Wilson has stressed the importance of listening to Gentle Spirit via the vinyl player…letting his record crackle away as you sit back with a beer in one hand and whatever you wish in the other. It certainly isn’t background music, but with it’s 13 tracks and overall play-time of 78 minutes, it’s easy to loose which track you’re on…but just don’t be time-watching and you’ll be fine!
As suggested, Gentle Spirit seems practically designed for a lazy day, and each song has it’s beautiful moments. Wilson’s upbeat cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Way I Feel is a welcome shoe-gazer with hints of The Doors poking through, whilst the record-finisher and 10 minute long epic Valley Of The Silver Moon, oozes with sun-blushed moments of LA Neil Young-esque magic.
Essentially, Gentle Spirit is a gorgeous debut number from Jonathan Wilson. It’s not life-changing or industry-altering, and it’s play-time can provide moments of sagging and getting lost. However, with further listens, my appreciation only increases, as Wilson’s hushed voice, delicately plucked guitars and warm presses of the piano and organ make me want to fly away to the sands of LA, beer and vinyl player in hand.
Gentle Spirit is released on Monday (August 8th) via Bella Union