It’s been a week of Wilson’s for me – a wonderful Steven Wilson gig at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday, and a new album from Jonathan Wilson this week.
The two Wilson’s were previously musically poles apart, with Jonathan’s 2011 album Gentle Spirit being a gentle updating of the LA / Laurel Canyon sound, there is now some common ground as the new album from the Wilson of the Jonathan variety has a more progressive feel, with echoes of ELO and Pink Floyd, particularly on the title track.
Fanfare has a much richer palette than Jonathan’s debut album, and this makes for a more rewarding listening experience. The big drums, aching 70s strings, Fender Rhodes, sax and Floydian vocal line of the title track set the mood for the whole album, which if released in 1977 would have surely been a staple of FM radio for many years.
It’s that wonderful classic rock sound that I love, but with the clarity of 2013 recording techniques (albeit still analog recording). If you don’t immediately buy the album after hearing the stream of Fanfare above, then I will be deeply disappointed in you.
Her hair is Growing Long is a beautiful song, with Danny Thompson’esque bass, intricate guitar lines and harmonics, underpinned by deep pulsing strings, building to a heavily percussive ending.
Dear Friend has some of the best guitar work on the album, and a real live feel to the track, especially the bass / drum interplay in the song’s mid-section, and bears comparison at times to the other Wilson’s recent work in its experimentation with jazz rock structures.
The variety of styles explored on Fanfare is one of the album’s great strengths, and a case in point is Future Vision, featuring former Fleet Foxes member Josh Tillman, who delivers exquisite harmonies.
Starting off almost like a country song, Future Vision is one of my favourite tracks on the album, in no way influenced (coughs) by the fact that it mutates mid-way through into an almost mid-period Steely Dan sounding piece.
Another standout track is Cecil Taylor, which features David Crosby and Graham Nash, so you know the harmonies are going to be pitch-perfect.
“Completely alone, I remember the story
We all see the thunderbolt – we all feel the glory”
Phased vocals, simple percussion and layered picked acoustic guitar give the vocals a real space to breathe.
Illumination has shades of Neil Young, with a deep grungy groove, and a hint of Around The World In A Day era Prince psychedelia thrown in for good measure.
The crystal-clear mix and excellent instrument separation on Desert Trip highlights Jonathan’s production skills. Some fine backing vocals from Jackson Browne and Josh Tillman beef up the latter stages of this trip.
New Mexico conjures up a dusty, barren desert landscape, and features LA musician Omar Velasco on backing vocals.
“I couldn’t let you into my mind, I couldn’t get you out of my mind”
Lovestrong features some fine piano work from Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Ryan Adams, Stevie Nicks) and a guitar solo from Jonathan that David Gilmour would surely be proud to serve up.
Album closer All The Way Down reminds me a little of my favourite Ryan Adams album, Love is Hell, specifically the powerful tracks Political Scientist and The Shadowlands.
Snatches of abstract radio chatter and background noise seep through the strings, piano and guitar that follows the loping beat.
Fanfare is one of those classic albums that just begs to be played late at night, with the lights dimmed, and no distractions – put down your iPhone for an hour, and turn the music up loud.
All The Way Down is the perfect ending to what is already shaping up to be one of my favourite albums of 2013.