North Carolina born Jonathan Wilson’s latest release, Gentle Spirit, rekindles music from a bygone era that is finding a resurgence amongst the current unsettled feelings of many in the world today. Wilson makes every effort to breathe life back into the 70’s Laurel Canyon music scene, infused in gentle psychedelia bringing solace in a maddening world seeking Shangri-La.
Not for the first time this week (Bright Examples) we see production touches from the Jayhawks and Andy Cabic of Vetiver. The album plays like a mild acid-trip down the river with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Roy Harper and The Eagles sat chilling on the riverbank. The gentle nature of the album could be easily mis-leading. Despite the connection to those trippy hippy days the lyrics on the album are soaring in clarity and mataphorical beauty.
The piano opener title track, Gentle Spirit, combines sweeping guitar and flute before building with percussion to emphasise the turmoil of searching for peace in a world where everything is ‘born from love’. This is not an uncommon theme and Wilson’s message for inner peace is in neon throughout the album.
Can We Really Party Today is probably the most direct in tackling concerns about becoming to self-involved in ignorance of what is going on in the world. There are some tasteful hooks throughout this album and the opening on this track really reminded me of Neil Youngs ‘Tell me why’ (After the Gold Rush).
There are some lengthy tracks which take some listening work, the longest being ‘Valley of the Silver Moon‘, a promising opener that caught my interest and would have pleased Jim Morrison no end, but despite the variety and scope within the track I found myself switiching off. That said, Desert Raven which stretches to nearly 8 minutes was the complete opposite and was brillaintly engaging from start to finish. Probably the best track on the whole album!
Overall the album is a success despite the unavoidable comparisons to artists from the past Laurel Canyon scene, this isn’t in itself a criticism as Wilson is equally inventive and I didn’t find those comparisons too obvious. In some ways the reference to Laurel Canyon in press releases has almost flooded reviews with references to that era at the cost of ignoring Wilson’s own talents. His decision to record the album to analogue tape was the right decision as it brings a livelier depth of sound that would otherwise be lost. I’m not sure I’d want to sit through it all again in one listening but then Wilson did envisage it as a double album designed for vinyl, it’s definately worth checking out!
Amazon UK: Gentle Spirit (Audio CD)