Thursday 8 December 2016

Music Review: Jonathan Wilson: Gentle Spiri ****

(Bella Union)

Published 05/08/2011 | 05:00

GENTLE DEBUT: Tracks have a folksy
loveliness and a stoned-out tempo
GENTLE DEBUT: Tracks have a folksy loveliness and a stoned-out tempo

The Laurel Canyon district of Los Angeles became celebrated in the late 60s and early 70s as a counterculture nexus that was home to such musical luminaries as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne.

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Something of a halfway house between the bucolic and the urban, the area retains much of its bohemian feel to this day.

The sonic outpourings of the cast of musicians who descended there 40 years or so ago have long been acclaimed. But it wasn't just the music that helped to mythologise the area -- the lifestyles of the protagonists have entered the realm of legend too. Lisa Chodolenko, the director of the feature film Laurel Canyon, describes the vibe as "kind of lazy and kind of dirty, and kind of earthy and sort of reckless".

North Carolina's Jonathan Wilson was born far away from Laurel Canyon in 1974, around the time its status was waning. Yet he was captivated by the music produced there, seduced by its reputation, and in his 20s he found himself living in the fabled neighbourhood working as a producer for such disparate figures as Erykah Badu and Elvis Costello.

Wilson has been in no rush to release his own material -- this is his first album after years toiling in the margins -- but what a truly special release it is. Rarely has a record been so aptly titled. These are songs to creep up on you slowly and inveigle their way into your heart. And in their folksy loveliness and stoned-out tempo, they could, for all the world, have been recorded in Laurel Canyon four decades ago and only recently unearthed. Even the titles betray a hippyish sensibility: Rolling Universe; Magic Everywhere; Natural Rhapsody.

Gentle Spirit's 13 tracks clock in at 73 minutes. Yet, these often lengthy compositions are almost never boring. Despite the preponderance of jams from a floating cast of collaborators, Wilson's lovely compositions aren't self-indulgent. Instead, as is the case with the 10-minuter, Valley of the Silver Moon, you're likely to be lulled into its soft, languid loveliness, despite the nagging guitar riff that anchors the song.

There's much to appreciate -- from the soul-searching Can We Really Party Today? to Wilson's virtuosic guitar solo on Desert Raven, while a lively cover of Gordon Lightfoot's The Way I Feel provides an arresting change of tempo.

Burn it: Valley of the Silver Moon; Can We Really Party Today?

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