Friday, 29 July 2011

Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit -Review


"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.”Hunter S Thompson

This quote sums it up perfectly for me at the moment, the reason why my recent reviews and online blogging titbits have been laboured on so much of late. I’m losing my insanity. Slowly but surely I’m getting more and more hits on my blog and starting to get a little too comfy on my musical laurels. I need something to fight against and battle for, I can’t like everything I’m given can I?

Thank you Jonathan Wilson you may have saved my soul, you have presented before me an album of such vacuous half hearted acoustic meandering that even though I’m ready to take a hammer to it you have helped me turn a corner. After seeing Jonathan Wilson live recently at London’s Borderline (see previous review a few back) with the excellent band DAWES and a special appearance by Jackson Browne (another singer/songwriter par excellence) I thought I was in for a treat when the album itself arrived in my inbox and looked forward to giving it a balanced fair appraisal. Stranger things have happened.

Wrong is probably too harsh a word but bland is probably right on the money. Jonathan Wilson is a good musician, fair singer and I’m sure a decent enough guy, but the music on the album is like being stuck on VH1 for eternity. The influences are clear, Crosby, Stills and Nash with a big slice of Neil Young’s guitar thrown in to season. Sounds good on paper although what all these artists had that Jonathan Wilson is lacking is edge and personality. He can wear the beaten up army shirt like Neil Young but he hasn’t lived through the times that Neil Young was living, interacted with the people etc. In short it’s a case of all theory no practice. He might be able to arrange the harmonies like David Crosby but I doubt the police are about to kick Wilson’s door down for too much hell raising, after all Crosby may look (and is) like an old hippy now but in the late 60s early 70s he was the guy that would take all the drugs, take all the girls and still hike to Woodstock to let his freak flag fly without missing a cue from Nash and Stills. The collection of songs here seem like more time was spent studying photos of ‘After The Goldrush’ and ‘Music From Big Pink’ rather than writing songs from personal experience and feelings. Of course this is all conjecture and he could be completely genuine although with track names like ‘Woe is Me’ and ‘Natural Rhapsody’ I’m signalling the barman already to medicate me.

The album here ‘Gentle Spirit’ isn’t a bad album, the songs are well constructed and even some lovely interplay on the electric guitars on ‘Desert Raven’ is reminiscent of Duane Allman and Dickie Betts from The Allman Brothers. The problem with albums these days is the format. I can’t Frisbee a download across the room into a pile of smashed c.d’s in disgust and find the right click drop to recycle bin just lame and counter productive to my anger.

I remember seeing Joe Strummer on TV talking about The Ramones and discussing the genius behind their 2 min tracks, no talk in-between stage banter just 1-2-3-4 and bang track 1, then track 2, track 3 and by the end of the 4th, only 8 minutes has passed, people have busy lives they want fast food rock and roll. There is simply no place for a track that lasts over 10 minutes such as ‘Valley of The Silver Moon’. I remember hearing the track in the encore at The Borderline and felt myself repeatedly checking my phone for a message, an update on Facebook/twitter or anything to wake my sense up from the catatonic pounding it was getting from this dirge. Thank the good lord for Jackson Browne bringing ‘Take It Easy’ to the stage moments later and saving the suicide hotlines from exploding.

I’m sure this album will do well in the crowds and circles it was primarily aimed at (waves to Bob Harris) but for me it seems too clinical and slick to ever be one I’ll treasure. Time for a quick blast of ‘Sister Ray’ and another run through of Anna Calvi’s loud and dramatic debut to blow away the cobwebs that have appeared here.

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