Jonathan Wilson


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On the positively baked Gentle Spirit, from 2011, Jonathan Wilson offered a stellar update of the early-'70s Laurel Canyon sound. For Fanfare, he is obviously inspired by the production techniques of that decade on both sides of the Atlantic. This is one of the most delightfully ornamented recordings to come down the pipe in quite some time. Its sound is so warm and inviting, it almost proves a distraction from the songs. Wilson's guest list is impressive: David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell, and others contribute. But mostly it's Wilson: guitars, piano, drums, bass, mellotron, bells, synths, B-3, vocals, and more. Deciphering the musical trail on Fanfare is a hell of a lot of fun. The influence of Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, CSN's self-titled debut, CSNY's Deja Vu, Stephen Stills' first Manassas record, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, ELO's Eldorado, Steely Dan's Can't Buy a Thrill, and numerous other recordings saturate this album's pores. Yet, if Wilson weren't capable of doing something new with his sources, the familiar would relegate it to the closet of nostalgia. As a songwriter, his ability to craft diverse, instantly attractive melodies, bridges, and hooks allows his songs to sit alongside those that inform them. Check the easy, driving country rock on "Love to Love," the breezy folk-rock in "Moses Pain" heightened by Campbell's guiding slide guitar, and Browne's and Nash's backing vocals that make it soar, and the shifting, crunchy rock slowness in "Illumination" for examples. Wilson's ability as a producer is akin to Todd Rundgren's: he can combine, arrange, and orchestrate his influences to create something new from the instantly familiar. This is evident in the opening title track where Baroque pop orchestrations (Eldorado) are wedded to Dark Side of the Moon's spacey nocturnal tensions -- dig James King's wailing saxophone solo. "Dear Friend" and "Her Hair Is Growing Long" are sequentially suite-like in their collective nods to Woodstock, CSN's self-titled debut, and the latter's acknowledgement of the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers" in the guitar break. Wilson's lyric phrasing illustrates vivid images, all framed by inviting, self-styled textural nuances. Crosby's and Nash's vocal appearances on "Cecil Taylor" fit so seamlessly with his, the twilight, darkly lit melody almost breaks its frame. "Illumination" channels the pace and cadence of Neil Young's Crazy Horse, but its lushness expands the plodding groove. Tench's piano on the instrumental "Lovestrong" matches Wilson's blistering David Gilmour-esque guitar break. Fanfare travels easily between intimacy and more psychedelic-influenced euphoria because Wilson's songwriting remains his ace in the hole. For all its laid-back deference to his production, it's tight, clever, and artfully constructed. Together they make for an album that will likely pass the test of time.

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