Album Review: Jonathan Wilson “Gentle Spirit”

Album Review: Jonathan Wilson “Gentle Spirit”

Bella Union 2011


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Jonathan Wilson has a new album out called Fanfare”. This however, is a review of his first release, “Gentle Spirit”. By all means feel free to buy both – they are extremely good. However, I’m reviewing “Gentle Spirit” because it seems to have taken up a place in the Chord demo room and is being liked by everybody.  Recording quality and production is right up there. It’s a frankly fabulous sounding album. No surprise perhaps, it was recorded on 24 track 2-inch tape. It was also recorded using a very fine collection of old guitars and equipment. First, listen might just throw you slightly.  Right now we’re in love with track 3, “Desert Raven”.  It starts with 60 seconds or so of ambient electronic noise and then suddenly there is one of the most wonderful guitar lines/solos I’ve heard in a very, very long time. Its sense of movement and musical progression, its timing, its feel, its tone. If you have any feelings for electric guitar, you’re going to play it again and then you’re probably going to play it again after that. Then you might ring your mate up and get him to come round and have a listen and he’s probably going to want to hear it again as well.  It raises a couple of interesting points. The first one – can you buy an album just for one track?  Yes you can.  Every music lover I know has done so at some point. The second – after playing “Gentle Spirit” I happened to be playing a live album by one of my favourite bands and a particular song that right now I seem to be identifying with.  It’s brilliant and I’m singing it in my head all the time right now. But good as the guitarist is, after hearing the movement and travel that Wilson produces on “Gentle Spirit” comes this realisation that so many guitars solos, no matter how well played, are really just an assembly of long established scale progressions and accepted and clichéd moves that can really only add bluster and a bit of drama but nothing else. This sets “Gentle Spirit” apart.  Pretty much every note on it is there because it needs to be and bear in mind that he’s pretty much responsible, with the odd exception, for playing every instrument on every track. I lent this to a friend, who after playing it a few times picked it up to have a look at who was playing in the band and found there wasn’t one. That’s remarkable. This is a man who can sound like a band and again there are not many purely solo albums that do this (feel free to let us know about any others). The only other one I can think of was by Kristin Hersh and called “Sky Motel”. I remember picking that up to check the band out and finding there wasn’t one.

So what’s the music on “Gentle Spirit” like? There are so many classic 60s folk, psych, rock influences that anyone with a taste for late 60s/early 70s rock folk is going to fall straight into this. I highlighted one song on this record, “Desert Raven”, but that’s not fair because there isn’t a bad song on this. There’s also a cover. It’s a song called “The Way I feel” which was written by Gordon Lightfoot. It’s a good song and it has a bit more of a band.  There’s a keyboard player and drummer (and the most glorious Hammond I’ve heard in a long time). Good and tight and as musical as the rest of the album is, you still can hear the difference between the solo stuff and the one with the band.  It’s hard to define but there’s a particular groove that happens when you get people playing together. I couldn’t recommend this highly enough. You’ll need to sit and listen to it. It grows in stature with every listen and becomes ever more involving.  You’ll pick up references to many classic artists and classic songs as well but really importantly, he’s taken these influences and he’s made something new. Go get it and you may as well pick up Fanfare at the same time. Different but every bit as good.  Nigel Finn

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2 inch tape bella union demo room fanfare folk gentle spirit gordon lightfoot jonathan wilson kristin hersh psych rock


One comment on this post

  1. Hi Nigel, great write up. I love this album! 🙂

    Reply to Alastair

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