- Jonathan Wilson
As was the case for Jonathan Wilson’s solo debut Gentle Spirit, his new effort Fanfare brings to mind images of tie-dye t-shirts and faded jeans along with the thick scent of marijuana as the album builds off of a decidedly mellow, retro-seventies approach. But while Gentle Spirit felt like an album dedicated to a specific time and place – with David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name serving as a particularly strong reference point – Fanfare is more ambitious. Wilson has been heralded as the man responsible for resuscitating the Laurel Canyon music scene, as he famously hosted jam sessions at his home recording studio that have featured everyone from Graham Nash and Jackson Browne to a younger generation of rootsy musicians as collaborators. While Wilson’s latest effort features plenty of those same blissful vocal harmonies and flowery, acid-washed guitar lines that marked the Laurel Canyon-esque psychedelic mellowness of Gentle Spirit, Fanfare pulls from a wider pool of influences that inspire a more adventurous and truly ornate album.
Fanfare opens with a jumble of psychedelic sound effects reminiscent of Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd and lonely piano chords before a string arrangement triumphantly bursts into the mix. The bombastic entrance of strings on the opening title track serves as a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the disc, as strings arranged by Wilco’s Pat Sansone add an orchestral flavor to several tracks. After a few string-dominated instrumental minutes, Wilson’s breathy vocals finally enter the fray and the song gradually picks up intensity before James King’s striking saxophone solo arrives and brings the seven-minute epic to a close.
The second track “Dear Friend” returns to more familiar territory for Wilson. After a slow and calm first verse, a wah wah snap from his guitar jumpstarts the band and hints at the vintage psychedelia to come. Another verse follows and after a few drawn out organ notes, Wilson’s guitar gently swoops in. His playing slowly glides and soars, and as the band picks up intensity behind him, his solo builds into a swirling, dizzying crescendo. Clocking in at over seven minutes, “Dear Friend” features the most liquid jamming of Fanfare, but Wilson shows off his guitar muscle plenty on other tracks as well. “Illumination” is a cascading piece of psychedelia that brings to mind early Krautrock bands like Neu! and features an abrasively bluesy and fuzzy tone on the fiery solo. “Lovestrong” starts as a ballad with expressive and lyrical playing that evokes some of David Gilmour’s best work and closes with a surprisingly funky jam. Between his luscious tones and thirst for experimentation and improvising, it’s no surprise that Wilson has become a more and more prominent collaborator on the Grateful Dead scene, but Fanfare is far from just a collection of guitar jams.
Much like on Gentle Spirit, Wilson’s spacey guitar interludes are balanced out by gentle folk rock. “Cecil Taylor” features an eerie folk echo reminiscent of David Crosby’s work, and in fact Crosby himself joins in and contributes a magical scatting section to the end. The breezy, wonderfully earthy Americana of “Moses Pain,” featuring a guest spot from The Heartbreaker’s Mike Campbell on slide guitar, is perfectly sunny and pleasant, while romping country rock makes an appearance with “Love To Love.” But there are surprises here too, ranging from the Steely Dan-like “Future Vision” and deep, funky groove of “Fazon” to the Traffic-esque, jazzy psychedelia of “New Mexico,” complete with a flute solo.
Things come full circle with the album-closing “All The Way Down,” a slowly rolling ballad that rivals opener “Fanfare” with its grandiose string arrangement. From the strings arranged by Wilco’s Pat Sansone to contributions from Graham Nash, David Crosby, Benmont Tench, Jackson Browne, Mike Campbell, Father John Misty and more, Wilson calls on friends for plenty of help on Fanfare. But despite the cast of musicians, Fanfare feels like anything but an all-star tribute to the Laurel Canyon sound. Wilson acknowledges his heroes while still fighting to create something fresh, and between the string arrangements, bursting horns, unusual rhythms, and yes, stunning harmonies and heavenly guitar breaks, Fanfare is the result of Wilson’s influences and burning creativity coalescing into a fresh musical vision.