Jonathan Wilson & Jackson Browne – review

The Slaughtered Lamb, London

Canyon in the Rain. Ballad of the Pines. Valley of the Silver Moon. Dappling country twanglers full of "divine lakes" where "the beaver still chops the pine". The music of North Carolina folkie Jonathan Wilson paints such an idyllic Blue Ridge utopia you'd happily live in his recent album Gentle Spirit, had he not presumably had to take out numerous preservation orders just to record it. But considering he's – ironically – garnering critical acclaim for demolishing and redeveloping pastoral sounds (think Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, early Fleetwood Mac, the more farmy Floyd solos) with the modern bulldozers of string samples, vocal trickery and Portishead warps, his first 20 minutes are disappointingly trad.

Resembling a man brought up by bears and singing like Dylan overdosing on honey throat lozenges, Wilson is dated by a loungy Rhodes organ, a lacklustre backing from support band Dawes and a reliance on tired religious metaphors: there's talk of "seven sinners in a room of black" and the harmonica-strewn Moses Pain envisions the Biblical power-walker struggling with modern-day depravities.

The songs are redeemed, however, by a melodic delicacy and sporadic bursts of lush colour and, when allowed solo space, Wilson commands the room with a fragile charm, despite the mawkish Woodstock sentiment of Waters Down (yes, he really does rhyme "Hear my people cry" with "Peace, we want to try"). And when he's joined by folk legend Jackson Browne – in whose band Wilson plays guitar – for a gorgeous, jazzy take on Gentle Spirit so quiet the barmaid adds soda pump percussion, the night takes a turn for the spectacular. Browne's barnstorming Take It Easy and classy country classic Our Lady of the Well warm up for Wilson's psychedelic Doors freak-out finale in Valley of the Silver Moon, which proves him quite the Jimmy Page when the lunar cycle takes him. Wilson's wilderness is ripe for development.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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