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Jack Wilson - Spare Key (Review)

Jack Wilson, Spare Key

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THERE’S a very sobering story under-pinning the journey towards completing Jack Wilson’s latest album, Spare Key.

While touring in the early summer of 2012, he heard of a tragedy at one of his favourite live venues, The Cafe Racer in Seattle, when a mentally disturbed man shot and killed four people, including fellow musicians from God’s Favourite Beefcake, folks who had given him a place to stay while he was there the summer before.

The incident sent Wilson into a spiral. He drank really hard while grappling with the tragedy. But he continued to tour. And he continued to write.

And he emerged the other side a different person. “Spare Key is possibly the last will and testament of that version of me,” he states. “I guess I learned how I can handle it. It was replaced with a better question, ‘how do I want to handle it?’ That is more complicated and I am still figuring it out.”

Anyone expecting a sombre, self-serious album, though, had best think again. For while there is a lot to mull over in the lyricism, the delivery is often beautiful.

Instrumentally, it’s reminiscent of the ’70s influenced country rock and folk of Neil Young, Elliott Smith and company, while also sharing contemporary similarities with the likes of Josh Pyke and Joshua Radin.

But Wilson also has his own identity and his songs are worth hearing on their own merits.

There is a melancholy undertow at times, as on the brooding Rainbow/Tiger (with lyrics like “I thought I was liberty, I thought I was justice”).

But there’s a disarming beauty on tracks like opening song Timber Town, in which Wilson duets beautifully with Shenandoah Davis while weaving in some intricate guitar licks that build towards a folk-rock, choir-enhanced climax, or title track Spare Key, which slow-builds in similarly lovely style while dropping in news-footage samples of people airing everyday concerns. Once it blossoms, around the two and a half minute work, it’s pretty special (the female harmonising and lush guitars giving it a sense of optimism).

Cowboy has a gentle, folksy simplicity to it that demands you listen to its reflections, while Masterplan also enchants in spite of the tormented nature of the lyrics (“I can’t tell which voice inside is real”), couching its soul-searching with some more terrific guitar work.

Denton, meanwhile, rounds things off in almost cinematic style, albeit gently so, with the viola and violins of Kyleen King and Patti King creating some wonderful arrangements to draw things to a close.

Spare Key is well worth checking out as Wilson is a very rich talent.

Download picks: Timber Town, Spare Key, Cowboy, Masterplan, Denton

Track listing:

  1. Timber Town
  2. Spare Key
  3. Cowboy
  4. I Can’t Remember
  5. Moved My Bed
  6. Rainbow/Tiger
  7. Masterplan
  8. Outsider
  9. Denton