‘Oil & Water’ – Stephen Wilson jnr
Much anticipation awaited the arrival of this CD, safely delivered into my hands and ready to transfer to my ears at the earliest possible moment! As frontman for The Cornelius Crane, I had already admired both his musical delivery and his vocal tone – in places, and on first hearing, reminding me of Neil young. The Cornelius Crane, obviously, are a great band, with style and musicianship in equal measure, combined with great lyrics, terrific sound, in both studio and live performances. So, you can imagine my delight when asked to review this solo album of Wilson original songs. As you’d expect from such a good singer/songwriter, that his solo project would take him away from his bands line up, so as to create a different environment, and therefore a totally different feel, and not just another The Cornelius Crane record. As someone who has worked with so many musicians, on numerous projects, both in studio and live performances, from bands to orchestras, from folk singers to musical theatre, I like to wear different hats, and most musicians like to do this too, but often, are so busy playing with their colleagues, that they delay, and delay, until one day, they just have to jump in at the deep end and do it!! As I said earlier, I like his vocals, and the way he delivers his thoughts and emotions, in songs, from the first time I heard him with the ‘americana’ band The Cornelius Crane.
You’d obviously expect with such a good songwriter, that his solo album, would take a different route to the band sound, a little more intimate, maybe more personal perhaps, which is what he does of course. His voice is still quite distinctive, but his delivery slightly different, but totally understandable, as what he’s saying, in these songs, is entirely personal, and heartfelt. So, with these songs to record and release as Stephen Wilson jnr; he invited a collection of wonderful musician friends along to join him the studio to support him in his musical endeavours. I’ll list all the performers below, of course, but the whole approach to recording reflects his total personality in sound form, so having around you, musicians who you know and like to work with, is always very important when working on a solo project like this, so you can bounce of each other. Bringing along to the studio, musicians you’ve worked with can help you develop your songs in a way you didn’t even initially think. Although recording sounds exciting, which it is of course, but is often equally stressful, trying to catch ’that sound’ to make it and keep it sounding fresh. The whole album here therefore reflects this approach, in fact, and with adding a variety of slightly ‘unusual’ instruments, well, in some eyes at least, into the musical arena! Personally, i like the idea of ’totally mixing it up’ – for instance: Saw, yep, you read correctly, Dulcimer, Melodica, Xylophones, Whistles, etc. This can give a songwriters imagination free rein and such an an enhanced palette of sounds, that you have to be aware of using these ‘ colours’ sparingly, and essentially only when they enhance your songs and musical ideas. Also, by adding strings, as here, to the traditional band line up of guitars, bass, drums, etc, makes even more colourful choice of tones available, but more of that later.
Of the 12 songs on this recording, its quite difficult to choose personal favourites, but I’ll try anyway. ‘Longside of the Street’ – very nice slide here, with a cool bluesy feel, balanced by some lovely vocal harmonies (similar in feel to CSN+Y and Fleet Foxes, very nice) with some great Harmonica playing. ’Statue and Steps’ – again, vocal harmonies enhance this song to somewhere else, balanced by some cool strumming on acoustic guitar and nice rhythmic drums. ‘ It’s a Long Way Down’ – again Wilson’s harmonica playing is a delight, used here as a solo, mixed with exquisite vocal harmonies, and acoustic guitar. You, will no doubt have your own favourites, so I’ll leave to you to choose. I feel all of the songs are really great, and Wilson jnr sings them with various forms of expression, from passionate, to pleading, to powerful, even quite melancholic feeling in places, that all the tracks are him sharing his life thoughts and experiences to us in music form – emotional bleeding, in an americana sort of way I suppose, but also in a beautiful, poetic way, of course. With some great instrumental playing from the band, as well as the vocal harmonies, already mentioned, we have a recipe for success. Do they all work, yes, I think so, on the whole, and a nice set of songs they are Stephen Wilson jnr. thanks for sharing these.
Just a couple of thoughts to add to this review, to sum up. After listening over to the album, numerous times now, the music has set off an ear worm thing in my head, which is always good. However, sometimes, less is more, so to speak, and I feel, at certain times, and in certain places, the musical arrangements sound a little ‘busy’, which detracts from the vocals, sometimes even the melodic instrumental lines played as solos. I suppose, its a bit like, I’ve got all these fabulous musicians in the studio, so I’m going to use them, some way, or another. When a soloist enters, to ‘do their stuff’, personally, I like the idea that if a musician has something to say, or add to the song, then by all means, and encourage totally, otherwise play the ‘ part’ given, then withdraw quietly. To me, I think silences are just as important as actual musical tones. All said then, I think this is great set of songs with some terrific playing too, I do hope Wilson will spend some more time in the studio and share his work with us all again. Anyway, in the meantime, enjoy the record and see Wilson live, if you have the opportunity!!
Paul Higham – Guitars/Slide; Kirsty McGee – Flute,Saw,Xylophone,Vocals,Melodica; Dawn Acton – Whistles; Stephen Bezwick – Piano; Netty Brook – Vocals; John Jackson – Synthesizer; Pete Whitfield – Orchestral arrangements; John Roberts – Pedal Steel,Synth,Piano,Slide; David Fielding – Electric Guitars,Dulcimer; Sam McGrady – Fiddle,Penny Whistle, Mandolin; Dan Adams – Drums; Leonora Johnson – Violin,Viola; James Boon – Electric Guitar; and Stephen Wilson jnr – Vocals,Guitars,Bass,Hammond Organ,Synth,Percussion and Harmonica. Great cover artwork too by Tom Acton/Jim Boon