How do you follow-up an album that won numerous Album of the Year awards, and was regarded as being an ambitious triumph full of complex and inspired songcraft and guitar work? That’s where Jonathan Wilson found himself following his acclaimed 2018 record, Rare Birds.
The album’s success brought him his first batch of national television appearances in the US, on Conan and CBS Saturday Morning respectively, and saw him step out of his producer shadow and gain recognition as an accomplished songwriter in his own right.
His follow up LP, Dixie Blur, saw him return to Nashville with a live studio band, rather than recording each part individually in LA. Pat Sansone of Wilco produced the album, with the recordings taking place at Studio A at the Sound Emporium, made famous by none other than the late country maverick, Cowboy Jack Clement.
Cut in just six days, the album title references the speed at which the LP was completed. “I think it’s the most down to earth and emotional both musically and lyrically that I’ve ever been,” Wilson states. Here, he picks out his favourite guitars and guitar parts on the album.
“Most of the record finds me fingerpicking and playing with a flat pick a little bit on a 1947 Martin 000-18. That’s the one that was in the booth with me and went from song to song, basically. That’s on maybe 90% of the thing, but for ’69 Corvette, you can really hear the delicate sound of a small-bodied orchestra style.”
“When I went to Nashville, I made a habit of sometimes going to the shops and stuff. I ended up buying this nylon-string Ovation called the Songwriter. I think it was maybe designed for that town, you know? Because that gets you back to a sort of Willie [Nelson] kind of vibe. It’s a plug-in, thin body and that’s what you hear me playing on this song, it’s got that DI immediacy.”
“Something that’s interesting about this song was that we did a Phil Spector style thing. Four of us are all playing acoustics at the same time. We gave that maybe a double or a fucking triple track or something, sort of like the wall of sound. That song naturally had this Spector stomp. At that point, you say, ‘Okay, should we go there? Should we do the thing?’ And I was like fuck it, let’s just do it. We included this big peak coming out of the bridge where we totally nicked it from Spector. That didn’t come from me, that came down as a suggestion from a wonderful dude on the record by the name of Russ Pahl.”
Fun For The Masses
“Russ Pahl played some wonderful work on the pedal steel on the song Fun For The Masses. He takes an amazing fucking solo and he plays his signature model on it. I want to call it a Sho-Pro or something like that. It’s got some super cool stuff about it, like a fuzz built in! He’s got this whole effects loop where he doesn’t give a dry signal. He was using a Mellotron pedal and doing these really cool things with the steel where it sounds like an organ. There’s also a high, atmospheric thing and I think he had a spinning speaker pedal where it suddenly starts to read and track not like a steel, it sounds sort of like a synthesiser or something that you can’t quite pinpoint.”
In Heaven Making Love
“On this, we used a Silver Sparkle Fender Custom Shop Telecaster with the B-Bender that was played by the great Kenny Vaughan. You can hear all of the brakes on that guitar, and that’s during the bulk of the song. When it comes to the guitar solo, we switch over to a big old jazz box type of thing. That guitar was a super old Epiphone. I think it’s called an Epiphone Regent, or even a Zephyr, and that guitar had flatwound strings. The way that I got that super slapback sound was to put the whole track through slapback. So, I put the whole mix through a Studer tape deck, not a plugin. That’s why the guitar has that authentic Sun Studios kind of vibe.”
Riding The Blinds
“I play this weird, dreadnaught pear-shaped copy of a Martin made by a guy, I guess in his back house or something, in Colorado and it’s called a BR Anderson. Maybe it was a project he made just for fun, I have no idea, but it’s a copy of a D-15. It’s a big-bodied 12 fret thing that tuned down to C. That guitar can take the tuning like that, it sounds good way down there.”
Dixie Blur is out 6 March on Bella Union, read our interview with Jonathan Wilson here.