On his new single, “There’s a Light,” Jonathan Wilson offers “an anthem of pure positivity” to combat the darkness of our current times. “The point,” he explains, “was to put these words of peace love and hope in the mouths of whoever sang along.” I know, I know — these are cheesy sentiments, but Wilson’s gift for melody, clarity of musical purpose, and audible emotional commitment (the recording captures a first take) let him transcend the pitfalls that await others who ply this retro folk-rock vibe.
Really, why even resist? Jonathan Wilson’s latest album Rare Birds is one of March’s best new releases, an odyssey through LAX-based rootlessness and Laurel Canyon salvation. There are no rough edges to this album, which pleases with sonic detail (Wilson is himself a record producer to Father John Misty, Karen Elson, Conor Oberst, and others) and a breadth of styles. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged as working the same territory as the War On Drugs, he brings new age composer/vocalist Laraaji in for “Loving You,” an expansive two-chord mantra. Helpfully, Wilson shows a self-awareness but without the self-obsession: “There’s a cherry on top tonight/For men who look like Jesus tonight/If you play your cards right/You can be with the son of god tonight,” he sings somewhere on Rare Birds. A musician’s musician for over 20 years now, Jonathan Wilson is ready for your ears.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.