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Anthony Wilson: Frogtown

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Anthony Wilson’s Frogtown, dusted with rootsy Americana, is like strong coffee with cream and sugar-a bracing mixture of bitter and sweet. This collection of 13 tracks, almost all composed by Wilson, also explores fresh performance territory, as a half-dozen of these tunes showcase the guitarist singing his own lyrics.

Wilson’s voice is gritty but tender, and while he doesn’t show prodigious range, he knows how to craft melodic lines that complement the vocal gifts he does possess. He’s virile and bluesy on “She Won’t Look Back,” and his wistful tone on “Your Footprints” (co-written with Dan Wilson) perfectly matches Petra Haden’s plangent violin and the spectral passion of guest tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Wilson also serves up some wicked sass on the finger-snapping “I Saw It Through the Skylight,” alongside the old-school muted squonk of trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom. Throughout Frogtown, Wilson’s fretwork is exemplary. He lays down thick, intense electric chords on the rocking “Silver and Flint,” slinks through the Italian mazurka “Occhi di Bambola” with tossed-off flair, and makes the strings shiver with longing as he joins pianist Patrick Warren on the elegiac album-closer, “Downtown Abbey.”

Haden is a standout of the ensemble, one minute bringing a backporch cry to the slow-shuffling vocal ballad “Our Affair,” the next sawing away with high-pitched fury on “The Cares of a Family Man.” Bassist Mike Elizondo, also Frogtown’s producer, provides a sturdy lowdown groove for “The Geranium.” Drummer Jim Keltner’s rattletrap sounds give the title track an invigorating punch, a neat contrast to the tight, crisp tones of fellow trapsman Matt Chamberlain, whose pinpoint pops and snaps drive the otherworldly flights of “Shabby Bird.” Frogtown is alternately breezy, fierce and openhearted, and commands your ear and your emotions from start to finish.

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Originally Published