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Jonathan Wilson At Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival...Or, If You're Unemployed Or A Music Writer, You Have No Good Reason To Miss This Show...MORE OR! "Can We Really Party Today?", Yes We Can!

With a smile like that, he definitely knows something...
Occasionally as a music writer you need something to snap you out of the malaise of all the "samey" sounding recordings that come across your desk. A tendency to become blase, with the mere name of a band inspiring a mountain of irk inside you, takes over. You wonder if all those bands and artists you were so hot for a few months back were really worthy of all the love letters and verbal flowers you bestowed on them. Then, as the impulse to delete incoming emails from publicists touting their latest and greatest has become almost a reflex, you give pause, move past the superlatives and overused musical reference points, and open your ears again. The thrill of discovery washing through your body like some drug you had sworn you were gonna kick, but then, it feels so good you blow off rehab again and settle in for a night of binge listening. This is the sensation I felt when I recently discovered LA via North Carolina's Jonathan Wilson and his debut album Gentle Spirit. Gentle Spirit was released here in the states on September 13th on British label Bella Union (Veronica Falls, Low Anthem) and it slipped past my radar, as I was heading out to Austin, TX for the Austin City Limits Festival. Had it not, it would have been the only thing I would have been listening to on the flights to and from Texas. Wilson - who lives in LA's notorious Laurel Canyon - is not only an accomplished musician (having worked with Chris Robinson, Dawes, Erykah Badu, Jacksone Browne, Jonathan Rice, Elvis Costello, and SF's Vetiver to name a few), but is credited for reviving the dormant folk volcano that was Laurel Canyon in the late 60's and early 70's. He is known for hosting some the most intense all-night jam sessions at his home, where on any given night some of the finest musicians in town find their way to the circle. In addition he is a highly sought-after producer - his Five Star Studio has since been relocated from Laurel Canyon and is now based in LA's Echo Park.
The thrity-seven year songwriter and mulit-instrumentalist has produced in Gentle Spirit not simply a folk rock record for his generation but one for the ages. Songs navigate between the cosmic folk of Tim Buckley, the eerie strum and atmospherics of early Pink Floyd, and the ragged crunch of Crazy Horse. The sound is one that can sound as intimate as someone sitting on a stool playing an acoustic guitar or as howling as the weight of the Pacific Ocean crashing on California's rocky shores. His deft hand in the studio and reverence for the past recordings of some the Laurel Canyon era's greatest residents ( think CSN & Y, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young & Crazy Horse) makes Gentle Spirit and its creator stand out from the clinical, digital recordings of most of the past two decades. The circular melodies in songs like, title track "Gentle Spirit" and "Natural Rhapsody" are mesmerizing. There are elements to his songwriting that remind one of Paul McCartney. This is reinforced buy some of the best bass lines I've heard laid down in quite awhile. Another stand out track - there are no weak ones - "Can We really Party Today?", asks the needed question, "Hey, can we really party today...with all that's going on?" The albums finale, the ten-minute plus "Valley of the Silver Moon", is in a word , EPIC! It has the ominous plod of Crazy Horse's classic "Cortez the Killer" with some wonderful organ stabs and swirls augmenting multi-layered guitar tracks. Throughout "Gentle Spirit" his calming voice guides the listener through an enchanted forest of nature-inspired imagery. Jonathan Wilson is the REAL DEAL. In an effort to purge myself of the flooding feeling of self-loathing attached with missing the early boat on Jonathan Wilson, I will be heading to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on Friday - at the unheard of hour of 11am for both writer and musician - to see him perform his set on the Rooster Stage at this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. I implore you to do the same. One more request, see below to listen to Jonathan Wilson's Gentle Spirit to get yourself primed.  I assuredly won't be as quick to dismiss the messages that come in my inbox in the future.

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