Jonathan Wilson may be on the same record label as Fleet Foxes. He may possess the same late ’60s/early ’70s aura. But that's about where the similarities end. To say Wilson = Neil Young and Foxes = Simon & Garfunkel, would be wrong. Whereas the unlikely musical stars focus on honed vocal harmonies and acoustic folk emblems Wilson breathes his vocals in a manner not unlike (that other Wilson) Dennis circa Pacific Ocean Blue (which indeed a lot of his debut album Gentle Spirit, reminds one of, especially in its sense of circular motion and slow stoned rhythms). He looks something like James Taylor, Neil Young and his musical compadre Jackson Browne and plays gliss guitar solos in the school of Meddle era Gilmour, Mac with Kirwan in the driver's seat, and a sprinkling of John Cippolina for good measure. Equal part guitar god who knows his way around a Gibson's fret board and cosmic troubadour who sings of the rustic woods of his native North Carolina.
It would be easy to cast Wilson off as a throwback, but in his appropriation of psychedelia he sounds more like The Rain Parade on 'Natural Rhapsody' than The Grateful Dead and his consistently falling asleep at the mic style of hushed vocals has as much in common with Spiritualised as it does with first time round stoners.
Yet, of what era the record sounds like is neither here nor there. Gentle Spirit works as an album in 2011. It works as an antidote to the frenzied pace of modern life. The carefully considered and gently constructed, multi layered and soulful nature of the proceedings could not have possibly been rushed. It's the antithesis of modern day pop. Guests on the album included a veritable feast of like minded pals from Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes) and Andy Cabic (Vetiver) to Gary Malliber (Van Morrison and The Steve Miller Band). Musicians who do things the old way, the right way and the best way.
“I recorded everything to analog tape which I’ve always done; it’s not something I’m trying to do as a boutique kind of hip thing," he says. "Analog simply captures things better and it takes the edges off. It creates a beauty much like film. I have a console that was built in 1972 and used to belong to Shelter Records. That’s a big part of the sound for the album.” So yes, if anyone knows what they're after it's Wilson and on this fragile, beautiful and pastoral record it is something he has undoubtedly achieved.
Jon 'Mojo' Mills