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.
From the very first minute of the title track, "Fanfare", you can tell that this is going to be a very special album indeed, as it introduces the album with an instrumental mixture reminiscent of Pink Floyd and The Eagles before exploding into a beautiful near-classical grandiose rock, resplendent with thundering, echo-laden toms and rich strings which are more Electric Light Orchestra than Crosby, Stills and Nash. It's majestic, astonishing, wonderful stuff. One thing is for sure, this second album is a different proposition than Wilson's excellent Laurel Canyon-influenced debut, "Gentle Spirit" (although the same influences are still very much present and correct) and whether you are open to a departure from that style or not will go a long way towards determining whether you will like this album or not.
I'm going to lay my cards on the table right away. I think this is a dazzling album and one of the very best albums I have heard all year. It is one of those records that demands your attention; you simply have to stop doing anything else and listen to it. One of those very special albums that very much deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the rock classics which have become household names. I'm not convinced that this will happen, as the general public's taste in music seems to be very different to mine these days, but the musicianship and creative vision on "Fanfare" is incredible, head and shoulders above some rather ordinary records by well-known names that most people seem to gush about. Had this album been released in the 1970s, exactly as it is, it would have been heralded as an important piece of work, I'm sure, but here we are in 2013 and, sadly, this beauty will only be heard by a relatively small amount of people worldwide.
There are so many excellent tracks on "Fanfare" that it is difficult to choose highlights or, indeed, favourites. It is probably best listening to it as a whole, rather than sampling individual tracks, that way you can appreciate the rich range of textures on offer here. I mentioned the magnificent title track, but virtually everything on offer here is terrific and is evidently influenced by the very best music of the seventies. "Future Vision", for example, is a superb Lennonesque ballad which almost purposely samples the different aspects of the former Beatle's solo career, including a gorgeously dirty guitar solo. The epic "Moses Pain" reminds me of Elton John's brilliant "Levon" to start with, but then expands into a tumbling country track which features not one, but two, sublime piano solos. The guitar work in "Dear Friend" is a revelation, the lyrics in the David Crosby and Graham Nash-backed piece of acoustic perfection "Cecil Taylor" dreamy and other-worldly, the mesmerising "Illumination" slowly unfolds into a stunning piece of psychedelic rock and "Lovestrong", part Elton John, part Pink Floyd, is simply magnificent. Even the sole cover, "Fazon", fits in perfectly with the rest of the album and has a scintillating saxophone solo. I could go on, but I won't. Each song has something noteworthy about it and this is a brief review, not an essay!
I cannot recommend this album highly enough. Jonathan Wilson is an exceptional talent (songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer) and this is perhaps one of the most beautifully sounding albums I've ever heard. Quite honestly, I can't say that I've heard anything better than this all year, so it is, without doubt, a very strong contender for my choice of album of the year and a firm addition to the (as yet unwritten) list of my very favourite albums of all time. Absolutely outstanding.
on 17 October 2013
Well, yet another brilliant album by the multi talented Jonathan Wilson. Unlike the previous review, I adored gentle Spirit from 2011, the late 60's era is to me still a massive part of musical history. Country Joe & The fish/Quicksilver/Crosby Stills & Nash/and Floyd, from those times all influenced Gentle Spirit, it's good to know that sound hasn't been lost for ever! On first hearing Fanfare, I wasn't sure how to take it, I'm three plays in, it just gets better, now I've got it, the quality production, just perfect. Right now the track for me "Cecil Taylor" David Crosby on vocal solo, ("If Only I Could Remember My Name, re-mastered"), Graham Nash joining on background harmonies, it's so CS&N, but who cares, it's great music! Love to love is Dylan, not a stone left untouched. Well I'm back to the beginning and Fanfare, the title track is playing, fourth time around, it's like another fantasy, Yep, Still living the dream!
on 29 January 2014
I actually downloaded this album a few months earlier but never really listened to it.
Then - while doing a bit of decorating, as it happens - one of the songs came up on shuffle on my iPod. For the first time in a long time, I actually stopped what I was doing to listen to the song. Then I played it again.
Well, well, well. I'm now in my 50s and I've been listening to "rock" music for 40years. Not much these days makes me stop and listen.
This is a wonderful album. Yes, it's a bit retro, a bit Laurel Canyon, a bit Neil Young, a bit Steely Dan, a bit 1971 - but all with a modern twist, or at least a slightly more modern twist.
By chance, I found out Mr Wilson was playing near me and went to see him. He couldn't quite reproduce the album live but that really would have been an achievement. He came across as very earnest and very passionate. Seemed like a lovely chap.
I've listened to this album endlessly over the last few months.
Highly recommended. I'd give it 6-7 stars, no worries!
on 19 November 2013
I hadn't heard of Jonathan Wilson prior to tracks being played on BBC R6 and liked what I'd heard... so took a chance. Wasn't let down in the slightest. Beautiful collection of tracks, superb production and the more I listen the more I hear. It does owe something to Pacific Ocean Blue by Denis Wilson which is no bad thing. Buy it now!
on 9 May 2015
The Mike Oldield of the americana music? That could be just the case? Because Jonathan Wilson is a singersongwriter multi-instrumentalist, who knows how to write good shorter and longer songs. It's because his fanfare-record ended up in different 'best-of-the-year-2013' lists that I decided to listen to his debut record 'Gentle Spirit'. At the same time I recieved a CD with individual brand new songs from different artists, one being 'Dear Friend' by this Jonahan Wilson. Without any hesitation I decided to buy this 'Fanfare' record.
It's a strong collection of singer-songwritersongs with a full band sound. Some songs are full of rich details, others have been stripped down. But for most of the songs I can say: they are warm, they are strong, they are clever. He takes care of a lot of instruments, takes care of beautiful, well crafted rhythms, loops, brigdes. It's like elements of CSNY, Pink Floyd and the symfonic area of ELO have been integrated, but not being a copy of those bands. There's classic rock, there's classic singer-songwriter, there's countryrock there's classic symforock present on this album. Wilson sings well, plays well and manages to write an handful of 6:30 minutes songs. Some of those songs have very interesting breaks or switch within the song, like the strong 'dear friend'.
At first, I tough why are Mike Campbell, David Crosby and Graham Nash playing on this record. After having heard the record, i can only say: of course. Then, some reviewers have written that this record will stand the test of time. I had to think a little bit about these words to realise: yes, that's true.
Fanfare is warm strong.
'Fanfare' is a very good title for this album. Sprawling, meandering songs remind me of a whole host of artists along the way including Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, 10cc, The Beatles and a whole host of other 60's and 70's rock and psychedelic acts...
Most of the 'songs' here are really more 'trips' and what Jonathan knows about keeping things short and concise he could write on the back of a postage stamp! (lol) For this reason it is impossible really to say that you 'like' this record because listening to it is more of an experience than something you do for pleasure. I doubt anyone other than a great musician (who may recall an awesome solo or a cool arrangement) will remember much of 'Fanfare' ten minutes after playing it but somehow that doesn't seem to matter. Jonathan's work ultimately has a captivating side to it and once you start 'Fanfare' you will find yourself drawn into its many mood changes and musical forays.
The one musical reference I can recall from the album is on the long and typically musically sprawling, 'Dear Friend'. Jonathan seems to have toyed with the theme from 'Tales of the Unexpected' here in amongst his other 'excursions' and the song has a wistful, waltz like feel to it in parts.
Listen, Jonathan Wilson is obviously a man who likes to do things his own way. He is also somewhat of a musical drama queen ( more false endings than Status Quo on some of the tracks here) but you know what, the guy can certainly play and his arrangements are much more intricately put together to simply be the lucky result of an acid trip so If I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt...
If 60's psych with Hammond or acoustic Dylanesque strummy riffing is your bag you should check this album out.
on 26 April 2014
All over the place stylistically, but that's not a criticism. Jonathan Wilson has produced a masterpiece here that will reward multiple listening. Full of fascinating sonic effects and I'm still wondering how on earth he produced a solo which, on initial listening, sounds like something the Beatles recorded and then flipped the tape to play backwards, but if you listen carefully, the melody is not reversed, so how he played and recorded this I have no idea. And Crosby Stills and Nash add some truly gorgeous vocals on one track.
on 27 October 2013
I cant disagree with any of the above reviews,this is a truly brilliant album.Heard this at F..p and had to get it,also bought Gentle Spirit for good measure.Can see them being my new favourite albums.
on 30 November 2013
Both Gentle Spirit & Fanfare are sublime albums: Desert Raven, Valley of the Silver Moon (GS), Fanfare and Moses Pain (F) are absolute 70's West Coast California infused classics. However I wasn't prepared for 2 hours last night at the Kazimier Liverpool which was beyond sublime ! JW is a must see live act and for anyone with a soul, please buy both albums, preferably the Double LP's