Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
North Carolina-bred producer and session man Jonathan Wilson (Dawes, Will Oldham, Erykah Badu) digs the old shit – like the Mellotron, buttery-toned Hofner bass and '69 Gibson ES 345 electric guitar he uses on this debut. Recorded on analog tape and conceived as a vinyl double LP, Gentle Spirit is a set of gorgeously detailed folk-rock ambles, most over six minutes long. Together they create a seamless mood, the sound of a chill living-room jam session where Wilson, in reality, is often the only player.
As a sideman, Jonathan Wilson has worked with Erykah Badu and Elvis Costello, but as a solo artist, his heart is somewhere else entirely. The primary influence on his first album is the enclave of folk stars who colonised Los Angeles's Laurel Canyon in the 60s. Aptly recorded to analogue tape, Gentle Spirit engagingly takes up where the Graham Nashes and Joni Mitchells left off, with only the odd splash of electronics proving it was made this decade.
It’s never fair to prejudge a singer-songwriters by their titles, but with [a]Jonathan Wilson[/a]’s astonishing debut, full of tracks called things like[b]‘Ballad Of The Pines’[/b] and [b]‘Canyon In The Rain’[/b], the fact he’s a Laurel Canyon-leaning, old-guard LA acoustician is blindingly obvious. What you don’t get from the names, though, is quite how well he pulls off his CSNY, James Taylor and Matthews’ Southern Comfort-inspired grooves, chucking in healthy shakes of [a]Pink Floyd[/a], [a]Elliott Smith[/a] and sunset psychedelia to create some of the most luxurious folk of the year. As California dreamin’ goes, this is almost as good as heading for the hills, reaching for a hand-tooled native American bong and calling yourself Moon Unit.
There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Jonathan Wilson, and Gentle Spirit is his debut album, but don’t mistake him for some new kid on the block. The North Carolinian musician has a pretty impressive musical pedigree. He’s worked with Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Robbie Robertson and Jackson Browne, and in November he’ll open for Roy Harper in a one-off show to celebrate the latter’s 70th birthday.
With his soft touch, multi-instrumental melancholy, and airy vocals, North Carolina native Jonathan Wilson might get some comparisons to Bon Iver. But what is most evocative in Wilson's debut album is the sound of the place where he recorded it: Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon. Gentle Spirit very much echoes a 1970s, laid back, country/folk/psych L.A. vibe, so much so that one might even think they hear Neil Young or Joni Mitchell on background vocals.
Calming music routinely attracts scorn. We can probably lay the blame with new age music or its 90s descendant, chill out, the genre of sonic ointment with which clubbers still salve themselves, their critical discernment abandoned, like lip balm, by the club sinks. Calming music never quite gets the respect that euphoric music, or troubled music, attracts.
The sound of lying on your back, sun-basking, mentally drifting downstream. Martin Aston 2011 It’s ironic that Gentle Spirit was released on the very day the London riots escalated, for had the shoplifters and arsonists been spinning this at home, they’d never have ventured outside. As its title suggests, Jonathan Wilson’s first officially released album (due to record label shenanigans, 2007’s Frankie Ray only emerged via iTunes and a private pressing) is the sound of lying on your back, sun-basking, mentally drifting downstream somewhere between dreaming and a more illegal high.