With all the records in the world to talk about or simply listen to, I seem to have found myself listening to Jonathan Wilson’s second LP rather a lot. It sounds, as does the first album, like Crosby, Stills and Nash with a general seventies Laurel Canyon feel, but it also has something Dennis Wilson about it, mixed with at one point, a moment so close to John Lennon’s #9 Dream that it is almost a sample. There is a Pink Floyd moment that is so like Echoes that for a moment I thought it was going to be a cover version – more later on that. He covers a song by Sopwith Camel, but his original songs sound more like cover versions than the cover versions do? This record lives in a 5 year period between 1968 and 1973 and yet this is 2013 – this record is an anachronism. Does it matter? What is fascinating is the way he simply incorporates these influences into his own songs without wondering for a moment if they are too close to the music of those days. Derivative doesn’t quite cover it, homage might be a better word.
It’s his guitar playing – the tones, Richard Gowen’s drums, how they are recorded, how he plays them. The organs, flutes, saxes, the strings, but most of all the harmonies and the general soundscape of the record. Then there’s the fact that starring on this record are Crosby and Nash, as well as Jackson Browne, and from a slightly later period, Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell. These legends are reason enough to listen to this album but interestingly although the instrumentation and the production sounds like all these sixties and seventies bands, his voice doesn’t really remind me of anyone. But let’s go through the songs on the record.
The album starts off with Fanfare, soft drums and piano with moody effects and then explodes into a track that could be ELO. I’m waiting for Jeff Lynne’s voice but it never comes. Lots of dynamic drum rolls and strings. At 3.13 he starts to sing and it really is lovely. Romantic lyrics for their own sake, uncynical. The song is 7 minutes long, the strings taking it out on a long outro and then at 5.30 out of nowhere, a crazed sax solo, and then the song takes another direction and unexpectedly gets mellow again, warm bass lines and calm, like an empty field after the event has ended leaving a lonely piano. It’s a really great arrangement and works well.
Dear Friend has a 6/8 nursery rhyme feel with harmonies and strings again. After nearly a minute you realise that this is just the intro, an unexpected change into a verse and the 6/8 rhythm returns as a chorus and then another unexpected change and into the song again – it’s the most unpredictable record you’ve heard before. Then a great long moody wah-wah solo reminiscent of something seventies, not sure what? Is it The Allman Brothers? Is it Humble Pie? It’s another 7 minute track and it’s musically so warm and inviting – the organ, the drums, the guitar playing is especially potent.
The Laurel Canyon sound and lyric is next on Her Hair Is Growing Long. Acoustic guitar harmonics, so nicely arranged and serene that it draws you in. If Jonathan Wilson had been 20 in 1971 he would be one of the legends that he has as guests. I suppose he has to be content with being a great producer.
Love To Love is an organic Ameri/Brit Dylan influencing Stealers Wheel with guitars left and right in some really listenable production ideas. He bravely mixes like the seventies guys did. They don’t do that anymore. He makes what could be an ordinary song work through his sonic ideas.
Future Vision has a lilting piano and a Beach Boys harmony moment that shows his love of those wonderful middle Beach Boys albums. At 2.08, it’s the #9 Dream line, it might only be so obvious because of his production, still it takes you to that Lennon moment for 3 seconds – and then the song goes somewhere else. Great arrangements and songwriting, unpredicatable again and so melodic it has you soaring with him. Every time something happens in the song, it is so detailed in its awareness of the sound of the guitars, the piano, the organ, everything, that you can’t help but admire how he crafts his ideas and adds such interesting instrumental sections to songs that others might leave to rest on the song alone.
Moses Pain, is a little bit country California style, it could be a Jackson Browne song. The kind of song that only Americans write, organ, slide acoustic guitars – an American rhythm. “Keep On Riding” he sings, and again brave mixing. An electric guitar arpeggio with a great sound in the left speaker and organ in the right and then the guitar comes over to the right with a piano solo. You have to listen to this album paying atention to where the instruments are in the mix. It is so interesting where the instruments are placed. Everyone must notice this – it’s such a different approach and I can’t think of a recently released album that mixes the record in this way. This is exactly what is missing from Paul McCartney’s latest album.
Cecil Taylor, sounds like America (the band). Cecil Taylor is a pioneering jazz pianist who was famous for his percussive playing. I can’t see how the song relates to him though, but then I know very little about him. I guess there could be another Cecil Taylor? This MUST be the track with Crosby And Nash. (I have no sleeve notes). “Cecil Taylor is on the White House Lawn tonight”. And more great guitar and organ at the end of this track, disappearing into trumpet (I think) and piano.
The Neil Youngesque Illumination comes next with its odd outro. I think you could enjoy this album purely on its guitar tones. He really has it down. His studio must be crammed with vintage gear – amps and pedals and old guitars. Everything on this record sounds old, nothing new or shiny in sight.
Desert trip is another American acoustic song, almost like Wilco meets Iron And Wine but more seventies, surprise, surprise.
Fazon is the Sopwith Camel cover from their 1973 album The Miraculous Hump Returns From The Moon. They released an album in 1967 with the hit Hello Hello and were one of the first San Francisco bands to be noticed. Then this album some years later, and that was that. It shows that Jonathan Wilson has a deep record collection to even find this song. The song seems to have something sci-fi going on in the lyric but I don’t know what Fazon means? It seems like the title is the key to the song’s meaning. Please enlighten me if you know? Jonathan?
You probably know that Jonathan Wilson played a large part on Roy Harper’s latest album Man and Myth, well Harper wrote the lyric to the next song New Mexico. Flute, acoustic and it sounds like Crosby and Nash again on the backing vocals. Some soft spooky keyboards and very Laurel Canyon. All the songs go places and that might be his great skill. He can find a song, take its hand and lead it to an interesting place, generally with interesting arrangements, beautful warm sounding instrumentation and instrumental passages that have you tapping your foot in appreciation of the craft itself.
Lovestrong’s warm Lennon piano accompanies another song that starts to turn into Pink Floyd rather quickly and at 3.38 IS Pink Floyd. I wonder why he can’t stop himself? Is it because he was born after it happened?
Last track is All The Way Down, tiny hypnotic acoustic riff, strings and tremolo and at this point I have come to the conclusion that why he does what he does doesn’t matter. What he does, he does so well that it’s justification for his total immersion in all things seventies. He loves those old records so much that they ooze out of his pores, into his production, and out of the ends of his fingers. He really must have a time machine and he has come here from 1971 to remind us of the magic we may have left behind.