Jonathan Wilson, who played a gently spirited concert at the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club in Santa Barbara on Wednesday night, is developing quite the resume. His producer and musician credits include work with Jackson Browne, Robbie Robertson, Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and young country-folk rockers Dawes, the latter of whom graced the same stage not too long ago.
Wilson was also host to a number of all-night jam sessions at his place in Laurel Canyon, which attracted musicians such as Costello, Conor Oberst, and members of Wilco and The Black Crowes. These drew favorable comparisons to the canyon’s musical glory days when artists including Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, The Eagles and Crosby, Stills & Nash lived and played together there. Wilson has since moved his home and studio from Laurel Canyon to Silver Lake, another region of greater Los Angeles with a rich — and more recent — musical history.
On Wednesday, we were treated to Wilson as a solo artist in support of his 2011 album Gentle Spirit, which is getting various year-end accolades, particularly from the British music press. MOJO magazine rated it the fourth-best album of 2011, and UNCUT magazine just named Wilson the New Artist of the Year. Perhaps the United States will catch up and catch on.
Wilson and his band, which included opener and one-time Santa Barbara resident Omar Velasco, served up a lush sound that recalls early, post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd as often as the singer-songwriters of Laurel Canyon. There was lots of cool organ and even a Mellotron, a keyboard retro-relic that was a favorite of prog rockers some decades ago. And Wilson played some tasty and trippy guitar, particularly when the songs stretched out.
One of the highlights was “Desert Raven,” in which Wilson and Velasco played cool, harmonized guitar parts over a strummed 12-string, giving what sounded like a mix between Pink Floyd and mellow Southern rock. This one’s worth checking out on YouTube.
Another highlight was a virtually unrecognizable cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Way I Feel,” which rocked out in an extended jam that unleashed some spirited dancing from a few of the ladies in attendance. The show’s other cover, Jerry Garcia’s “Mission in the Rain,” was more faithful to the original but with an indie flair.
One expects that Wilson’s resume will continue to grow in exciting ways as his rising profile brings him to the attention of more like-minded artists. Whether he’s behind the recording console or playing his own songs at a club, it seems that Jonathan Wilson has the magic touch.
Mission in the Rain (Jerry Garcia cover)
Canyon in the Rain
The Way I Feel (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.