Title: Vessels of Wood and Earth
Artist: Dan Wilson
Label: Brother Mister Productions/Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 23, 2021
Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer Dan Wilson’s debut album, Vessels of Wood and Earth, exhibits a rich range of tones and textures. Joined by pianist Christian Sands, bassist Marco Panascia, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and guest vocalist Joy Brown, this incredibly talented band showcases a mastery of musical expression, revealing robust musical perspectives from each and every artist. Produced by bassist, composer, arranger, and Philadelphian jazz icon, Christian McBride, the project is a mix of both original compositions and arrangements of classic songs from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, assembled to illustrate Wilson’s foundation that is “rooted as much in tradition as it is in moving the music irresistibly forward into the modern world.” The album is the first release on Brother Mister Productions, McBride’s own record label under the Mack Avenue Music Group.
Wilson titled his album to illustrate how we as a society are quick to be attracted to the shiny and ostentatious, rather than appreciating the less readily apparent structures that support us. Vessels of Wood and Earth is comprised of eleven soulful tracks that display Wilson’s technique and mastery over the guitar, in addition to showcasing the variety of influences that shaped his musical foundations.
Kicking off the album is the breezy, bass-filled “The Rhythm Section” with both strings and keys moving swiftly and nimbly. Followed McBride’s refreshing arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Bird of Beauty” and the upbeat “Reconstruction Beat” is the project’s titular track. Slow, steady, and anchored, “Vessels of Wood and Earth” characterizes the core fundamentals of the album—remaining unhurried and understated—while at the same time embodying the essentials needed to create great blues and jazz music.
“Who Shot John” is full of changing time signatures with an unabating theme, while “After the Rain” and “Cry Me a River” are slow and contemplative with Joy Brown’s soulful vocals, which are also wonderfully displayed in Marvin Gaye’s Motown classic, “Inner City Blues.” Following the warm and sentimental “James” is the closing track “Born To Lose,” a fun, yet simplistic, arrangement of a Ray Charles classic that exemplifies the notion that the glitter, embellishments, and decoration are truly unnecessary when seeking to create powerful and compelling pieces of music.
Vessels of Wood and Earth is a must listen for those who need a little balance and stability in their lives, as well as for those who enjoy fresh adaptations of classics or just appreciate narratives that only music can succinctly tell. With a message so clear and told so simply, the music will undoubtable leave listeners content in spirit.
Reviewed by Jared Walker