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Jonathan Wilson - Fanfare heralds an American Beauty
on 14 October 2013
Jonathan Wilson has been very industrious of late not least producing tracks on the epic new album by Roy Harper "Man & Myth". He must be an expert on time management since this new album "Fanfare" is a long 13 track double like his last album 2011's "Gentle Spirit". That was a very personal outing with a Laurel Canyon vibe that produced a mix of sheer brilliance but also some songs which slipped badly into seventies pastiche. "Fanfare" addresses these issues and is the fully-fledged complete American beauty that Wilson has been threatening to make standing easily as one of the best of 2013.
The songs are stronger, the production is tighter plus the musical feast on offer far more tasty and lavish. It starts with the superb seven-minute title track. This is classic songwriting, echoing the vibe contained on Dennis Wilson's masterpiece "Pacific Ocean Blue". It is a multi-layered mini epic with Wilson hushed vocals playing out over a soft piano, dramatic orchestration and even some free form jazz. Next up "Dear Friend" shows that Wilson has profitably studied Pink Floyd with the reverb-laden guitar solo half way through partly hewn from "Mount Gilmour". The great thing about Wilson however is whilst not disguising his influences he does not become overwhelmed by them. Guesting on the album are luminaries like Josh Tillman, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and David Crosby. It is easy to imagine the latter in his prime covering the complex acoustics of "Her hair is growing long". Other songs like "Future Vision" echo John Lennon and the straightforward "Love to Love" recalls the Eagles. Standouts are many. The lovely alt-country of "Moses Pain" is top notch while the superb acoustic strum of "Cecil Taylor" is haunting, reflective and immediately addictive (with pinpoint harmonies from Crosby & Nash). The rolling "Desert trip" is pure California and you can almost feel the heat of the sun going down on a hot tarmac road. The sounds of Crazy Horse infused "Illumination" is a sterling tough rocking workout which drifts into a more funky psychedelic vibe as it draws to a close. The song "New Mexico" shows that while Wilson knows his influences he is also pushing forward the template of classic American Rock integrating funk, folk and rock plus infusing it with deep fluttering flutes. This reviewer is still uncertain about the choice of "Fazon" by San Francisco rockers Sopwith Camel as the one cover on the album but no doubts exist on the track "Lovestrong'. Wilson throws the musical kitchen sink into this commencing with a slow Randy Newman style piano ballad but mutating into an extended funky guitar workout. By any standards, there are "widescreen" ideas to spare and eclectic innovation in abundance.
Jonathan Wilson has created a true wonder with "Fanfare". It is much tougher and fuller album than "Gentle Spirit" and gains from stripping back the hippie infused ethic of the former. That the album is populated with so many influences and styles is to Wilson's considerable merit. The musicianship throughout is of first class honours degree standard and despite its length, it is an album that engages and grips throughout its duration. Wilson draws it to a conclusion with the hypnotic "All the way down" by which time you perceive that you have listened to something very special and look forward to the reprise. The purpose of a Fanfare is to herald something very important and in making this album, Jonathan Wilson has fully met that criterion.