“Jim is a great guitarist and a tremendous, empathetic listener.” Richard Thompson
Drawing from British folk, avant-rock, and jazz traditions alike, Wintres Woma– Old English for “the sound of winter”– is James Elkington’s debut solo record, but you’ve likely heard his masterful guitar playing and arranging, even if you didn’t realize it.
Elkington (an Englishman living in Chicago) is an inveterate collaborator who brings his lyrical compositional and improvisational sensibilities to any group. He has toured, recorded, and/or collaborated with Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Joan Shelley, Nathan Salsburg and Brokeback, to name just a few of his many enthusiastic admirers.
His assured album, recorded at Wilco’s Loft, is baroquely detailed and beautifully constructed, featuring both his baritone vocals and some of Chicago’s finest, including Tomeka Reid. Elkington was brought up in England during the ’70s and ’80s—a time when traditional and acoustic music was largely shunned in favor of the new wave (to which his largely-destroyed copy of The Fall’s Perverted By Language will attest)—but found after his first forays into songwriting that some semblance of the folk music vernacular had crept in and wouldn’t leave. Elkington’s music, however, is anything if retroactive, and anything if folk music: “It’s not folk music,” he asserts. “I may use the mechanics of folk music to put across my own ideas at times, but it really doesn’t fall into any specific community or songwriterly tradition.
The album’s lyrics do seem to have a preoccupation with unseen powers at work and other dimensions, both of which seem to show up in traditional English music, but it’s based on my own experience and understanding, not anyone else’s.” Wintres Woma was recorded at Wilco’s studio, The Loft, in a five-day sprawl with engineer Mark Greenberg.
Elkington played and arranged all the instruments, with the exception of upright bass from Nick Macri, percussion from Tim Daisy, and string performances from Macie Stewart and Tomeka Reid, all of whom are veterans of Chicago’s collaborative improvised music milieu. At times the results conjure Kevin Ayers delivering a Dylan Thomas or Gerard Manley Hopkins poem over a Bert Jansch song, all the while speaking in Elkington’s singular voice, and shot with indelible melodies.
Each of these songs wrangles with memory, and even prophecy, in its knotty language and elegant, unpredictable progressions, drawing on the uncertain past—both personal and historical—in order to negotiate the uncertain future. In that sense, despite James’ protestations, perhaps it is folk music.
RIYL: Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Kevin Ayers, Bert Jansch, Ryley Walker, Jim O’Rourke, Scott Walker, Talk Talk.
1. Make It Up
2. Hollow in Your House
3. Wading the Vapors
4. Grief Is Not Coming
5. When I Am Slow
6. The Parting Glass
7. The Hermit Census
8. Greatness Yet to Come
9. Sister of Mine
10. My Trade in Sun Tears
11. Any Afternoon