Posts Tagged ‘Observer’

Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)

August 18, 2011

Forest City beardie Jonathan Wilson seems to have quietly built up a decent reputation as a producer and session player, having worked with the likes of Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello and Robbie Robertson. Impressive CV then, and it’s only natural that someone whose natural roles should make music that slots so comfortably into the background. Gentle Spirit isn’t a bad record, by any means – it’s just not especially engaging. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of solid playing (the chiming guitar on Can We Really Party Today? is utterly lovely) and far-more-than-competent musicianship. But that’s not enough.

For a start, Wilson only really has one modus operandi: slow, understated, lengthy folk-rock. Not a problem in itself, but without particularly memorable hooks or dynamic variation, it’s difficult to retain interest from one over-long track to the next.The best moment by far is the pretty (and relatively-brief) Ballad Of The Pines, which conjures up images of Roger McGuinn camping in his back garden whilst declaring himself ‘the outdoor type’.

This record will surely appeal to a certain type of traditionalist muso (the sort who like REAL music played by REAL people with REAL instruments made from REAL trees), but the meandering solos and uninspiring mood are very definitely not WHTB’s bag. Wilson’s hushed voice – like The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean on a particularly reflective rainy day – is certainly bewitching, and there are moments dotted hither and thither that suggest he has a lot more up his sleeve than this album suggests. It’s just a shame he doesn’t demonstrate it fully.

Kitty Empire reviewed this album for The Observer recently, suggesting (not unreasonably) that “calming music attracts scorn”, despite it being a skillful artform in itself. That’s true, but the calmness itself isn’t the reason that this album won’t make it onto your stereo very often. Artists don’t need to be Black Flag to be interesting. The problem, simply, is that not a lot happens over 78 minutes, and what does happen doesn’t feel essential.  A little chutzpah doesn’t go amiss from time to time.