James Elkington – Wintres Woma

James Elkington – Wintres Woma

With his CV recently enriched with creditable guest spots on records from Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Freakwater and Michael Chapman as well as via full-blown membership of Brokeback and a rejuvenated Eleventh Dream Day, Chicago-dwelling English émigré James Elkington has plenty to be proud about as the consummate collaborator’s collaborator.  However, Elkington has now returned to scratch his own singer-songwriter itch for seemingly the first time since 2013’s alluring Waterdrawn (his second LP with Freakwater’s Janet Beveridge Bean under The Horse’s Ha duo alias).  Such a rapprochement with this side of his muse is more than welcome on the warming Wintres Woma.

Although missing Bean’s balmy malleable tones next to his drier baritone brogue, Elkington’s first bona fide solo album – having previously led The Zincs in his pre-super-sessionman years during the noughties – unfurls as a soothing sequel-of-sorts to the chamber-folk-fitted Waterdrawn, with the extended shared influences of his other rustically-inclined associates added to the fertile mix.  Recorded in Wilco’s The Loft, under the studio-driving stewardship of fellow latter-day Eleventh Dream Day auxiliary-player Mark Greenberg, Wintres Woma captures Elkington deftly deploying his multi-instrumentalist skills with support from leftfield Chicago music scene players Nick Macri (reprising his upright bass role from Waterdrawn), Tim Daisy (percussion), Macie Stewart (violin/viola/backing vocals) and Tomeka Reid (cello/backing vocals).  The net result is a strong suite of compositions that canter and curl with commanding calmness.

Self-accepting of his vocal limitations, Elkington ploughs most of his cogent craftsmanship into the elegant electro-acoustic arrangements. This means that although the album doesn’t immediately appear to ignite, it steadily grows on the ears through its glimmering cross-referencing.  Thus, the finger-picking, trotting exotic percussion and jazzy low-slung bass-lines of “Make It Up” and the evocative Robert Kirby-like orchestrations of “Wading The Vapors” make for faithful yet unforced Five Leaves Left-era Nick Drake homages.  Elsewhere, Richard Thompson’s unplugged moments are channelled on the snaking “Sister Of Mine”, the madrigal-blues of “Grief Is Not Coming” and the pensive “Hollow In Your House”.  In-between times, the unshowy gritty virtuosity of the late Bert Jansch is mined heavily on the “My Trade In Sun Tears”; the baroque-pop expanses of Jim O’Rourke’s Eureka are explored on the encoded elaborations of “Any Afternoon” and “When I Am Slow”; and the flexible folk framings of The Horse’s Ha are stretched furthered with a splash of Steve Gunn’s earthiest elasticity on “The Hermit Census” and “The Greatness Yet To Come”.

Whilst drawing extensively and openly on the idioms of his peers, paymasters and forbearers, Wintres Woma is woven together with dexterity entirely emblematic of James Elkington’s own talents.  Whilst he may remain a reluctant frontman and will continue acting as a valuable accomplice to others, it would be a shame for this subtly rewarding long-player to go unfollowed by another solo-trading instalment, sooner rather than later.

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