Singer/songwriter and producer Jonathan Wilson first began his musical journey when he founded Muscadine with Benji Hughes in 1995. Three years later they released their debut album, The Ballad of Hope Nicholls on Sire Records. The debut was followed up by LP2 and a live album. Wilson has since had a number of production credits to his name, in addition to being a featured guest on a number of other artist's records. He began his solo career in 2007 with his album Frankie Ray, and a contribution to the Maddona tribute album with an inspiring cover of “Isla Bonita”. Wilson then began working on Gentle Spirit, which was released in 2011 on the independent record label Bella Union. Wilson is currently on tour in support of the album.
Perched just a quick ride from Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills, Laurel Canyon is one of rock and roll's most legendary neighborhoods, with past residents including Jim Morrison, Neil Young, and Frank Zappa. Despite its close proximity to the neon excess that is Hollywood, the neighborhood is leafy and tranquil, offering the kind of laid back vibes and natural beauty that you don't usually associate with a major city, especially L.A., which actually has a startling amount of scenic natural spaces within its city limits. So it's not very surprising that Jonathan Wilson's breezy, pastoral folk rock record Gentle Spirit was born in that old hippie neighborhood (though the fact that Ke$ha is also a current resident doesn't really help my theory). Gentle Spirit is an apt title, the album, which was released in 2011, could hardly be more relaxed and easy going. Wilson's voice is breathy and double tracked, and he sounds like he's somewhere between a hammock and an afternoon stroll on most tracks. The 8-minute long “Desert Raven” is a free-spirited echo of Crosby Stills and Nash, one of Laurel Canyon's most famous musical residents in the late 60s. Wilson warms up with a long jam of meditative acoustic guitar chords and sun dappled lead guitar that sounds a lot more 1971 than 2011, then steps in at minute two with vocals like Steve Miller after that midnight toke. “Can We Really Party Today” is pure back porch country-folk, finger picked guitar tumbling out of the speakers like a late summer breeze. Wilson conjures an atmosphere of woodland escapism, asking that you follow him to a place “Where the stormy weather stays outside/The beaver still chops the pine/Everybody has a lovely time.” On “Ballad Of The Pines” Wilson sounds like the world's most pleasant alcoholic when he sings “looking for a reason not stay drunk all the time.” The rest of the track is nonchalantly psychedelic with its gorgeous delicate guitar work and evocative lyrical imagery. Gentle Spirit isn't an album that just evokes a long gone era, it helps you step out of time itself, spinning together the kind of carefree moments when sunset sneaks up on you and you wish life had a pause button.