Jonathan Wilson: Making Like Thoreau, In Song

Oct 10, 2011
Originally published on October 11, 2011 5:32 pm

Record producer Jonathan Wilson recorded his new album Gentle Spirit during little slivers of time when the artists he was working with — among them songwriter Jackson Browne and the rock band Dawes — were on break. The project took him four years to finish, and it's the musical equivalent of a landscape painting.

One day during the making of Gentle Spirit, Wilson rigged up a microphone to record the sounds of a rainstorm outside his studio in Laurel Canyon, Calif. He was drawn to the pelting rhythm of the rain, but says he wanted to capture something more elusive — a rush of wind, the lonesome essence of this place where he'd been writing songs.

The album is a carefully drawn series of landscapes and nature scenes. In "Can We Really Party Today," he brings listeners inside the beauty of places he's known — describing honeysuckle on the vine in his native North Carolina or the swamps of southern Louisiana.

Though he didn't set out to be a singer-songwriter, Wilson has the tools. He slips sneaky, profound observations into ordinary-seeming lyrics. He's clearly influenced by the Laurel Canyon sound of the early 1970s — there's a touch of Neil Young's idealism, along with Joni Mitchell's sweeping melodies — but he's got his own sound.

The first thing that jumps out about the aptly titled Gentle Spirit is its tranquility. Wilson is the opposite of those contemporary singer-songwriters who fixate, endlessly, on personal hurts. While those guys sit and brood, Wilson makes like Thoreau, seeking perspective through nature. He brings back idyllic, delicately shaded landscapes and atmospheres that encourage the mind to wander.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Jonathan Wilson is both a record producer and a musician. He's played with the likes of Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello. And whenever he had a free moment producing in the studio, he'd work on his own album. After four years, Wilson finished the project. It's called the "Gentle Spirit," and Tom Moon has our review.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: One day during the making of "Gentle Spirit," Jonathan Wilson rigged up a microphone to record the sounds of a rainstorm outside of his studio in Laurel Canyon, California.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANYON IN THE RAIN")

MOON: He was drawn by the pelting rhythm of the rain, but says he wanted to capture something more elusive: the rush of wind, the lonesome essence of this place where he'd been writing songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANYON IN THE RAIN")

MOON: Jonathan Wilson's debut is a series of carefully drawn landscapes and nature scenes. On one song, he brings listeners inside the beauty of places he's known, describing honeysuckle on the vine in his native North Carolina and the swamps of southern Louisiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN WE REALLY PARTY TODAY?")

MOON: Though he didn't set out to be a singer-songwriter, Jonathan Wilson certainly has the tools. He slips sneaky, profound observations into otherwise ordinary lyrics. He's clearly influenced by the Laurel Canyon sound of the early 1970s. There's a touch of Neil Young's idealism, along with Joni Mitchell's sweeping melodies, but he's got his own sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESERT RAVEN")

MOON: That song, "Desert Raven," lasts nearly eight minutes. It unfolds slowly, yet it never feels long. The verses are offset by the stately, almost hypnotic guitar interlude.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESERT RAVEN")

MOON: The first thing that captivated me about the aptly titled "Gentle Spirit" was its calm. Jonathan Wilson is the opposite of those contemporary singer-songwriters who fixate endlessly on personal hurts. Those guys sit and brood. Wilson makes like Thoreau and gets outside, seeking perspective through nature, and he brings back idyllic, delicately shaded landscapes and atmospheres that practically encourage the mind to wander.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL RHAPSODY")

RAZ: The new album from Jonathan Wilson is called "Gentle Spirit." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL RHAPSODY")

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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