Jonathan Wilson - Rare Birds

by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:9 Release Date:2018-03-09
Jonathan Wilson - Rare Birds
Jonathan Wilson - Rare Birds

What would you say progressive music would sound like if, during its heyday, it was coming out of California, Grateful Dead excluded? Many names crop to mind - Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane (Starship), The Doobie Brothers (Michael McDonald phase), Little Feat (latter day in particular) Greg after The Allmans, and probably quite a few names too. Is that what you might be looking for these days, of course, passed through the modern musical advancements?

If so, Jonathan Wilson has got it all on Rare Birds, his third solo album. Those expecting strictly the Jackson Browne, CSN&Y leanings of the first two albums need not run away, they are still here but in streams and smaller doses. Actually, Wilson himself wasn’t too happy with these comparisons.

What is certain is that he has widely expanded his sound to include all his musical experiences that include production jobs for Father John Misty and Karen Olsen, but also playing in Roger Waters live band. And that is where the English prog influence comes in strong, not only from Pink Floyd, but from Bowie, and Peter Gabriel. Actually, on some of the tracks on Rare Birds Wilson’s voice has shades of Gabriel circa his first few self-titled albums. Also on “Me” the sax lines do sound quite a bit like Mike Rutledge of The Soft Machine has contributed his keyboards to the song.

The thing though is that out of this seemingly unusual combination, Wilson was able to come up with some well-crafted and very listenable music that has certainly widened his range. Three songs into the album and “Over The Midnight” gives you all those California elements you might be craving, and even though it is one of the longest tracks on this (double) album, it simply breezes by you. On the other hand, tracks like “Sunset Blvd” introduce all these subtle prog elements without detracting from the essential elements of the song.

The key three, and possibly the strongest tracks come halfway through the album with the title song, “49 Hairflips” and “Miriam Montague”. “Rare Birds” itself shifts from prog guitar lines to pedal steel slow-downs, seamlessly without anything jarring.  They all reflect the key characteristics of Wilson’s new album - strong melodic sense that indicates that Wilson has developed a solely personal music voice, intricate arrangements obviously influenced by all the music Wilson has heard and great production touches, something he has obviously had a chance to work on.

There is a minor quibble - at almost two hours of music, it might be a bit much to handle in one go, but then Wilson probably had his reasons why he wanted to have it presented in one go, although he insists it is not a concept album. Whatever it is, after “Rare Birds” one thing you cannot call Wilson is a one trick pony.

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