Artist: Anthony Wilson
Label: Goat Hill Records
Formats: CD, MP3, LP
Release date: April 15, 2016
Today, jazz musicians drift into Americana music with ease and frequency. Anthony Wilson is the latest jazz guitarist to take the plunge into Americana with his superb release, Frogtown. The album’s name is taken from the Frogtown neighborhood in Central Los Angeles, also known as the Elysian Valley. Frogtown’s population of 8,000 is predominately middle-class Latinos and Asians, who, recently, have resisted gentrification through community organizing. Wilson does little to connect the album’s thirteen songs back to this neighborhood in an explicit fashion, but the musical quality of Frogtown is what merits attention.
In this jazz/Americana context, Wilson’s guitar expertise and songwriting talents go hand-in-hand. Frogtown’s title track—destined to appear on a public radio program somewhere—is as catchy-as-they-come and features deceptively lush orchestration. “The Geranium” is a moody jazz tune, whose melody recalls Wes Montgomery’s “Bock to Bock.” This reminds us that Anthony Wilson is no stranger to the jazz canon: his father, Gerald Wilson, was a jazz trumpeter, big band leader, and arranger in Los Angeles whose career began in the 1930s.
A surprise on the album is Wilson’s singing. To date, Wilson has crafted his musical identity as a supporting guitarist with jazz/pop musicians like Diana Krall, Al Jarreau, and Paul McCartney. Yet, on Frogtown, Wilson’s voice takes center stage. “I Saw It Through the Skylight” is a spry vocal performance—he sings as if he has just found love all over again. On “Shabby Bird,” Wilson makes the best of his limited range, with a harmonized vocal line that is clean and understated.
Frogtown is largely composed by Wilson, but the accompanying cast of instrumentalists and producers make the final product shine. It is not a surprise to see Jesse Harris on the album, as the musician/producer has worked with many jazz artists who venture into Americana, such as Norah Jones and Julian Lage. The band also features the talented Petra Haden on fiddle, producer extraordinaire Mike Elizondo on bass, Patrick Warren and Josh Nelson on all-things piano, Jim Keltner and Matt Chamberlain on drums, and a special appearance by tenor saxophone legend Charles Lloyd on “Your Footprints.”
In its convincing drift from jazz to Americana, Frogtown is a solid release that shows Anthony Wilson to be as multi-faceted as the neighborhood for which his album is named.
Reviewed by Douglas Dowling Peach