Rare Birds

Rare Birds

by Jonathan WilsonJonathan Wilson


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Jonathan Wilson has been busy since 2013's Fanfare. He's produced two albums by Father John Misty (Josh Tillman), who returns the favor by appearing here, and records by Conor Oberst, Dawes, and Karen Elson, as well as playing on Roy Harper's Man & Myth and Roger Waters' Is This the Life We Really Want? He's also musical director of Waters' touring band. Like his previous outings, Rare Birds is drenched in the sounds of his record collection, but this time around he's cast his sonic net considerably deeper and wider than the Laurel Canyon and yacht rock-isms so entrenched in its predecessors. It's sprawling at nearly 80 minutes, and lavishly packaged -- especially the LP. While the aftermath of a broken relationship is the obsession behind these songs, Wilson insists this isn't a concept record. However, the truth of the matter is that it might as well be, as he charts the various stages of attraction, desire, hope, love, conflict, and romantic dissolution. To aid him in this massive venture, he's enlisted a large cast of musicians who include pedal steel ace Greg Leisz, drummer Joey Waronker, and a host of backing vocalists -- including Tillman and Lana Del Rey. Wilson's love of mid-'70s Fleetwood Mac and Trevor Horn is entwined on the glorious "Loving You," with proto new age pioneer Laraaji on zither and duet vocals as Del Rey poignantly backs them in a soulful drift. "Trafalgar Square" is saturated in Wilson's love of Tony Visconti's work with David Bowie and T. Rex. Another album highlight, "There's a Light," pays a sideways homage to ABBA's spirit-lifting pop. Jeff Lynne's Beatles worship frames "Miriam Montague" -- complete with a string trio. Wilson combines his respect for Tim Friese-Green's work with Talk Talk while simultaneously offering tribute to Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" in the same track. In the haunted "Living with Myself," warm, spacious, bubbling synths and glorious backing vocals by Del Rey carry the foreground as Leisz's lap steel swoops and whines in the margins. Trevor Horn also proves an inspiration in the pulsing layers of cagey synths and assorted other keyboards and strings on "Hard to Get Over." "49 Hair Flips" reflects the influence of Talk Talk (circa Colour of Spring) and late composer Arthur Russell as well as early girl group rock & roll. Its lyrics engage raw sexuality, the perils of social media, and forlorn longing. They don't quite get it; in fact, they point at the problems with Rare Birds. Wilson clearly needs an editor: only three of its songs are under five minutes; his lyrics are so full of images, often in jarring juxtaposition to one another, that they're clumsy. It would also be nice -- next time out -- to hear Wilson leave his record collection on the shelf and rely on his own production inspiration. The guy has the chops to stand on his own. These are quibbles, however. Rare Birds is dizzying in ambition and (mostly) dazzling in execution. It offers hours of enjoyment to anyone who takes it on.

Product Details

Release Date: 03/02/2018
Label: Bella Union
UPC: 5414940007589
catalogNumber: 730
Rank: 8762

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Jonathan Wilson   Primary Artist,Organ,Synthesizer,Acoustic Guitar,Banjo,Bass,Percussion,Piano,Bongos,Celeste,Drums,Gong,Bass Guitar,Electric Guitar,Hammond Organ,Vocals,Zither,12-string Guitar,Bells,Slide Guitar,Vibes,ARP,Shaker,Vocoder,Tubular Bells,Wurlitzer,Fuzz Bass,Moog Bass
Pete Jacobsen   Cello
Greg Leisz   Lap Steel Guitar
Joey Waronker   Percussion,Drums
Tom Lea   Violin,Viola
Dan Horne   Moog Bass
Krystle Warren   Vocals
Dan Bailey   Drums,Electronic Drums
Josh Tillman   Vocals
John Kirby   Organ,Synthesizer,Piano,Mini Moog
Jake Blanton   Bass,Bass Guitar
Ziad Rabie   Saxophone
Holly Laessig   Vocals
Jessica Wolfe   Vocals
Omar Velasco   Vocals
Lana Del Rey   Vocals
Jeff Ramuno   Piano,Vocals,Moog Synthesizer,Mellotron,Shaker
Derek Stein   Cello
Drew Erickson   Organ,Mellotron

Technical Credits

Chris Bellman   Cut
Tom Lea   String Arrangements
Jonathan Wilson   Composer,Producer,String Arrangements,Sample Arrangements
Jeff Ramuno   Additional Production
Drew Erickson   String Arrangements,Arp String Ensemble
Andrea Nakhla   Artwork,Sleeve Design
Dave Cerminara   Engineer

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