Larry Jon Wilson - Self-Titled

Ask most people who Larry Jon Wilson is and they won’t have a clue. Here’s a history lesson. Wilson developed a formidable reputation in and around the Nashville scene of the mid-70s for his heart-on-the-sleeve song-writing and intimate performances of spare country folk-blues. Although he released four full albums between ’75 and ’79, he never sought mainstream recognition.

While friends and contemporaries such as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Steve Earle built large followings, Wilson refused adamantly to compromise his way of doing things to the demands of the music business, ensuring that he remained relatively obscure outside of the scene. He’s since spent the better part of the last thirty years touring, on his own as well as with Townes Van Zandt and other groups, honing his skills as a performer in an incessant stream of intimate gigs.

Whoever convinced him to break with habit and actually record an album, 28 years after the release of ‘Sojourner’, should be given a medal. Or a pat on the back, either way. This self-titled collection was recorded over a week, on Wilson’s terms: ‘no sticks and no plugs’. The result is superbly poignant, by and large just Wilson and a guitar with the occasional backing of a plaintive violin.

The low-tech feel is augmented by the fact that the tape was just left on, picking up Wilson exchanging a few words with the engineers, or commenting on the song between tracks. Consummate performer that the man is, each track was the first and only take, further highlighting his pursuit of spontaneous expressions of emotional honesty delivered directly to the listener over material polished in the studio.

It’s easy to see why he enjoys such respect from his peers, the gentle warble of his baritone carrying an aching tenderness. These are songs that feel lived in, Wilson claiming as his own the few selected covers, such as Dylan classic ‘Heartland’. His own material is just as good, tracks such as the meandering ‘Whore Trilogy’ telling heart-rending tales of desolation. This album is essential listening, each song a small window into an old man’s heart.