With 2011′s critically-lauded Gentle Spirit, audiences worldwide were introduced to the prodigious talents of singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and unrivaled guitar hero Jonathan Wilson. Gentle Spirit‘s authentic exploration and modern updating of the “Laurel Canyon sound” earned it high marks on many year-end lists, including those of MOJO (#4), Uncut (#16) and The Guardian (#28). Both BBC Music and the NME gave it 8/10 stars.
The eagerly-awaited follow-up, Fanfare, is an ambitious, epically grandiose rock production that instantly conjures thoughts of Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue.
“‘Fanfare’ as a word, represents a fanciful showing, a bodacious movement of energy, a celebration of sound,” Wilson explains. “Something to signify an arrival, a special occasion. A fanfare follows no rules. In this case, it’s also the opening song, it’s the gateway for the rest of the record.
Fanfare‘s seven-minute-long opener begins with the sound of baby chicks being fed through an Echoplex tape delay unit and builds into a tubular bell-laden, multilayered cinematic poem from the artist meant to channel the perfect love song through his piano. As a declaration of intent, it’s a powerful statement.
“From the initial idea of the record, I knew I wanted a concert Steinway piano to be the centerpiece–the beating heart–of Fanfare. So naturally we found a guy on Craigslist with one for sale and bargained with him to let us rent it for the entire session.
I was going for this sort of ‘widescreen’ sound, a blown out vista. I wanted strings, horns, bells, vibes, voices, solos, improvisation and a full orchestra on some of the tunes. I didn’t just want ‘a’ drum sound, I wanted it to sound like Thor’s snare sound, stuff like that. Having that 9-foot Steinway was central to achieving the sound that I wanted.”
By the second number, “Dear Friend,” Wilson displays his guitarslinger side in a mind-crushing six-string duel with band member Omar Velasco. It’s a blistering, bluesy scorcher just begging to be used in the climactic scene of a darkly intense Hollywood thriller. Whereas Gentle Spirit was recorded over several years with various friends sitting in, with Fanfare, as Wilson explains “My touring band (Richard Gowen on drums, Dan Horne on bass, Omar Velasco on guitar and Jason Borger on piano and organ) is on this album. We’ve played festivals, clubs, theatres, arenas and everything in between. We’ve had the opportunity to learn on the road from the likes of Neil Young and Tom Petty and also play gigs with great friends we really admire and respect like Wilco and Tame Impala.”
Fanfare was made in Los Angeles over a 9-month period. “There were a few weeks of sessions with the band tracking live, as well as many weeks with just myself and engineer Bryce Gonzales. There were many weeks at a time of just me working alone, as I did with Gentle Spirit. I’ve always worked alone in some capacity since I first started recording, it’s a very important part of the process for me.”
Produced by Wilson at his Fivestar Studios in Echo Park, Fanfare was recorded to 2″ analog tape and then mixed down to 1/2 inch tape at Jackson’s Browne’s Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica through a Neve 8078 analog console. The “next generation hi-fi” attention to the smallest sonic details is the kind you might expect from a consummate craftsman/perfectionist that Wilson is.
“Analog simply captures things better and it takes the edges off. It creates a beauty much like film,” Wilson says. “Fanfare is a vehicle to explore fully blown out analog production, from the strings to the hi-fi cymbal sounds. The recording used a live echo chamber extensively. ”
Featuring vocal and instrumental contributions from heavy friends like Graham Nash, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Josh Tillman (aka Father John Misty), Wilco’s Patrick Sansone, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith and Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, the album is a celebration of friends and family. Additionally, Wilson and British folk legend Roy Harper co-wrote several songs on the record.
Sometimes Wilson seems to need a pinch to believe his good fortune: “There are an awful lot of wizards on this album. Wizards of all ages and life experiences. All these amazing voices and musicians. There is a high degree of musical prowess and pedigree here. Cross-generational musical sharing and passing down traditions is very important to me and something that must continue. This is the way you keep the Fanfare’s blowing, this is how you keep the energies interacting.”
In “Lovestrong,” one of the last songs on the record, Wilson sings, “Just a while ago and up the road a piece, a Fanfare when you are born, a ballad when you are released. All the while these were the lyrics that you sang, every lifetime plays the song of every living thing.” And so it goes…