Gentle SpiritAlbum | Jonathan Wilson By Jim Allen
Folk-rock balladeer taps into the Laurel Canyon spirit.
Jonathan Wilson recorded most of Gentle Spirit in Laurel Canyon, under the influence of that bucolic L.A. neighborhood's history as a hippie-rock haven for the likes of Jackson Browne (with whom Wilson has worked as a guitarist), David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, et al. The multi-talented singer/songwriter played the lion's share of the instruments himself, with some help from pals like Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson and members of Vetiver. But while the mixture of fragile folk-rock and pastoral psychedelia that Wilson grandly unfurls here is closer to the sensibilities of bygone beard-rock days than to much of what 2011's music scene has to offer, there's little that's actively reminiscent of the old-school Canyon gentry. What links Gentle Spirit to that period most significantly is simply Wilson's vision of an album as a linear, almost cinematic experience that slowly builds from beginning to end, as opposed to a randomly collated collection of tracks tailor-made for iTunes/iPod shuffling. It's a lush, rich, double-length record that's meant to be soaked up while you're splayed out on your sofa in front of your speakers, not haphazardly encountered on your smartphone in five-minute increments in between appointments. And if that seems like an unreasonable expectation, then it's our era that's at fault, not Wilson's methodology.