James Elkington
Wintres Woma

Tracklist:

A1. "Make It Up" 3:19
A2. "Hollow in Your House" 3:18
A3. "Wading the Vapors" 4:05
A4. "Grief Is Not Coming" 2:50
A5. "When I Am Slow" 2:53
A6. "The Parting Glass" 1:33
B1. "The Hermit Census" 3:40
B2. "Greatness Yet to Come" 4:55
B3. "Sister of Mine" 3:42
B4. "My Trade in Sun Tears" 3:25
B5. "Any Afternoon" 4:54

 

 

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Album Narrative

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 as a band member, recorded, and/or collaborated with Jeff TweedyRichard ThompsonSteve GunnMichael ChapmanJoan ShelleyNathan 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.

 

 

Somewhere around 2011, James Elkington stopped writing songs. He had been the leader of a band called The Zincs; a partner in a band called The Horse’s Ha; and had released an album of guitar duets with his friend Nathan Salsburg, but the question of what this British-born-but-Chicago-based musician was going to do next loomed large, and he didn’t feel as if he had much to say.

A change is as good as a rest and, being a natural collaborator, an immediate answer was to start playing in other people’s bands. As both musician and arranger he commenced to work with Richard Thompson, Jeff Tweedy, Steve Gunn, and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and, after a few years, found that contributing his energies to the music of others had somehow returned to him the energy for his own. Part of that renewed creative vitality came from exploring the acoustic guitar in a new tuning (in which he wrote all the songs on Wintres Woma) and, cashing in on downtime from his touring schedule, by working assiduously to hone both guitaristic and lyrical techniques.

Wintres Woma is Old English for “the sound of winter,” a phrase that Elkington found appealing when he encountered it in a book about the historical English imagination. It seemed to resonate in both the sound of his new compositions—the icy limpidity of the arrangements, the snowy tumble of guitars and strings—and with his gnawing consideration of how much cultural upbringing brings to bear on one’s own creativity if given half a chance.

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. On the advice of a friend he started to investigate his own musical heritage, and that investigation began to inform both his outlook and his output.

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.” These lyrics contend particularly with the continuing strangeness of living in a different country: “For the most part it’s very liberating, but England is old, and there is a weird energy that comes from that country, an energy that doesn’t seem to feel the same in America. It took me moving away from home to feel it at all. I was so used to it that I didn’t know I was feeling it until I didn’t feel it anymore.”

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. The opening track “Make It Up” takes off at breakneck speed propelled by the snaking rhythm section, as Elkington pointedly recounts the time he almost crashed his car trying to get to a séance on time (mostly fiction). “Wading The Vapors” deals with one of those memories so distant that it has ceased to feel like it really happened and showcases an astounding cello solo from Tomeka Reid. “Greatness Yet To Come” features Elkington’s labyrinthine guitar front and center in a tale of 1980s mid-teen hallucinogenic excess (mostly non-fiction), dissolving soon after into a cinematic reverie recalling Ennio Morricone at his most languid.

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.

  • Available as 140g virgin vinyl LP, with heavy-duty reverse board jacket, printed inner sleeve, and high-res Bandcamp download code.
  • CD edition features heavy-duty reverse board gatefold jacket and LP replica artwork.
  • RIYL Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Kevin AyersBert JanschRyley Walker, Jim O’Rourke, Scott Walker, or Talk Talk.
  • PoB artist page and tour dates
  • Also check out Ambsace (PoB-21), James Elkington’s duo record with Nathan Salsburg

 

Acknowledgments

The combination of Elkington's sonorous baritone and virtuosic fretboard forays makes a strong case for him as the spiritual heir to the late U.K. folk legend Bert Jansch. But for all of Wintres Woma's links to a scene that was approaching its peak when Elkington was a zygote, the dominant artistic voice here is an unflinchingly singular one. The lyrics, in particular, travel a path that seems entirely their own, with imagery unusual enough to force your synapses into new configurations, and a bittersweetness palpable enough to take you by the tear ducts and squeeze. With Elkington's intimate, plum wine vocals and tactile guitar work at the core throughout, each track feels like a stylishly scrawled diary entry we've somehow wrangled the permission to read. His combination of timeless folk flavorings and an artful modernity blend into a wistful but never forlorn kind melancholy. It's the kind that steps far enough back from the shifting of the seasons of life to know that the whole thing is just a dream to be played out, a dance to follow through, on the way to becoming one with the true sound of winter.

– Jim Allen, NPR Music First Listen

Jim is a great guitarist and a tremendous, empathetic listener. 

– Richard Thompson

Jim can play all of the things I pretend to know how to play. When he plays my parts, it's like looking in a mirror that reflects a more handsome version of yourself.

– Jeff Tweedy

With Wintres Woma, Elkington finds the space between fire and smoke, tangling complex fingerpicking into quiet, glowing melodies.

– Lars Gotrich, NPR Music

An alterna-folk epiphany. a cryptic storyteller and dazzling acoustic guitarist. More than just another bustle in your hedgerow... Elkington's guarded introspection makes for a subtle tension that the killer guitar playing gently dissolves.

– Rolling Stone

8/10; I'm New Here feature. The ex-pat Brit displays an affecting, fluid picking style... Merging a love of English folk with the influences of his new home, it's an uncluttered but nimble collection, as likely to draw comparisons to Nick Drake as James Blackshaw. 

– Wyndham Wallace, Uncut

4/5 stars. The sublime waltz "Wading the Vapors" proves that Elkington, aided by cellist Tomeka Reid, can provide abundant depth and beauty, while the perhaps prophetic "Greatness Yet to Come" illustrates a willingness to blend hot-picking with something more cinematic. 

– Fred Dellar, MOJO

Looking for a thread connecting some of the year’s best records, from Joan Shelley to to Michael Chapman’s 50? Look to guitarist James Elkington. Now, Elkington adds another record to the list of this year’s most engaging: his own LP, Wintres Woma. Recorded over a handful of days at the Wilco Loft, the album recalls Bert Jansch’s California recordings and Kevin Ayers’ most pastoral moods, subtly blending English chamber folk with rock and jazz touches. It’s deceptively casual, revealing more humor and depth with each listen. Strange characters, seances, cursed week days, and astral musings make Elkington’s songs, which showcase his progressive pop tendencies (“Make It Up”), dreaminess (“Wading the Vapors)” and prove he can amble with the best of them (“Hollow in Your House,” “Sister of Mine”).

– Jason Woodbury, Aquarium Drunkard

4/5 stars. James Elkington has been acclaimed by such knowledgeable figures as Richard Thompson and Jeff Tweedy as one of the most dazzling fingerstyle guitarists around – a reputation confirmed here by his propulsive, cyclical picking on tracks like “Make It Up”, providing a deft counterpoint to his wary, murmurous vocals. His songs are clusters of dark, foreboding images - “Spray your days with coffin nails”; “Entrails made into garlands to welcome my way” - reaching an apogee in “Greatness Yet To Come”, a mystic vision akin to the Crossroads Myth. But the darkness is spiked with sweetness in songs such as “The Hermit Census”, which finds him acknowledging, “There’s no time to make a meal of sorrow, when the rabble is hungry for mirth”.

– Andy Gill, The Independent

An album that is at once beautiful, complex, and assured... it makes itself easy to like.

– Jesse Jarnow, Pitchfork

4 stars. A convincing, warmly whirling weather system of his own.

– Jude Rogers, The Guardian

Starkly gorgeous. Wintres Woma is less a debut than a timestamp of a road warrior's present state of being. It sings with his collaborations, his influences, and his ingenuity.

– Will Schube, Noisey

The guitar king ... already a visionary in his own right.

– Duncan Cooper, The Fader

James Elkington’s Wintres Woma is the one folk guitar album you must hear in 2017.

— Caitlin White, Uproxx

The music’s effortless grace contradicts the experiences of temporal and cultural unease that Elkington sings about in ways that’ll keep the listener guessing and the record spinning.

– Bill Meyer, Magnet

The sheer force of Elkington’s virtuosity is an attraction unto itself, but the amazing thing about it isn’t the playing. While it’s clear that Elkington could’ve taken his place alongside William Tyler and Daniel Bachman in the new pantheon of instrumental fingerpicking masters, he’s gone another way. He’s still playing like an absolute beast, but he’s also presenting himself as a quiet, contemplative singer-songwriter. And somehow, that makes his work even more impressive. The album sounds sharp and pristine and layered in a way that most of Elkington’s solo-acoustic peers never get a chance to equal.  Wintres Woma has the same full, oaky quality to the recording that Pink Moon does. It’s great zone-out music, music for staring out windows and getting your thoughts together. And during a time when we can’t help but get tiny stress seizures every time we pull out our phones and check our newsfeeds, there’s real value to an album like this. It’s a balm, a shelter. “Take your time any afternoon,” Elkington counsels on the album’s closer. It’s good advice, and he’s made a piece of music that might help you follow it. 

– Tom Breihan, Stereogum "Album of the Week"

A fingerstylist of tremendous prowess, but also as a bright and cogent arranger. Gentle traces of Nic Jones and Bert Jansch are deeply embedded in his style here, but the roguish writhings of Bill Callahan and Nick Cave are equally as present. Elkington helps to breathe new life into a variety of beloved folk traditions in a refreshingly candid manner.

– Joseph Darling, Bandcamp Daily "Album of the Day"

On his first solo album, Elkington, who has performed six-string duties for Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Steve Gunn, and more, combines his virtuosic guitar playing with accomplished singing and songwriting. Wintres Woma is the latest serene gem from rootsy indie label Paradise of Bachelors.

– Entertainment Weekly

The album emphasizes Elkington’s sleepy baritone voice and lyrical, fingerstyle guitar playing. Curlicue figures on songs like “Make it Up” will send aspiring guitarists to the woodshed. Although working with folk-based accoutrements, Elkington’s instincts are shaped as much by Television and the Smiths as they are by Nick Drake and Davey Graham.

– Jeff Elbel, Chicago Sun-Times

 James Elkington has an effortless skill, the kind of picking prowess that dissolves like smoke into mood and atmosphere. He is a very good player, a lovely relaxed singer (in the vein of Bert Jansch) and an eccentric writer, whose songs borrow liberally from British folk tradition, but veer into unexpected directions. But if you want to know what’s mesmerizing about this slow burning beauty of an album, listen to the intervals, where Elkington dreams jazz-inflected fever reveries... It is there, between verses, that these songs blossom.

– Jennifer Kelly, Dusted

8.4. A lovely document of not only his top-shelf guitar abilities, but also his sharp songwriting skills and sturdy singing voice. Wintres Woma simultaneously has an earthy and an astral bent to it. It’s possible those emphatic strings and the fervent guitar work was recorded a few months ago, but it’s also possible this is music from four centuries back.

– Paste Magazine

Wintres Woma sees Elkington exercising his strengths, creating intricately woven webs of acoustic delights to complement his sonorous singing ... A beautiful platter of avant-folk that presents itself gently but lands with great weight.

– Chicagoist

10/10. This album is a direct descendent to all of those classic English folk records by Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Ralph McTell, Nick Drake, and Michael Chapman. Yeah, it’s that good. And it’s that good with the songwriting, the guitar magic, an almost Kevin Ayers-like baritone voice, and lovely maverick spirit. 

– Bill Golembeski, Soundblab

Calling James Elkington a ‘guitarist’ is putting it lightly. The England-born musician has the kind of sound that makes you question if it’s just one guy playing; he can conjure up an entire six-string orchestra with his sprightly and nuanced fingerpicking. 

– Art Levy, KUTX "Song of the Day"

It is superb. It consists of beautiful fingerpicking that suggests he has more than the average number of fingers matched with a wonderful folky feel bringing to mind the autumnal hues of Nick Drake, Richard Thompson and Bert Jansch. Elkington's voice and delivery have something of the Jim O'Rourke about it—traditional enough to be placed within the folk canon but with something of the contemporary about it. There are Fahey-esque instrumentals, wandering autumnal watery folk, beautiful orchestration and of course terrific guitar playing . It's a winner alright. 

– Norman Records

The music on Wintres Woma reflects Elkington's interest in folk traditions from his native Britain as well as his adopted country, assembled with poplike concision and graced with the same sophisticated melodic sensibility that made the Zincs stand out from their indie-rock kin.

– Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader feature

Evocative, gorgeously rendered... envelops you like a warm wool blanket on a dark, snowbound evening. Elkington creates a warm, deeply nuanced sound that's at once traditional and forward-thinking. It's the small, inventive epiphanies, like staring at images in swirling snow, that make Wintres Woma such an unexpectedly transcendent delight.

– AllMusic

A collection of mainly acoustic gems that is as musically magical as it is at times slightly humorous. The lyrics of the songs in this album are chock-full of observational humor and understated elegance. It’s a wonderful album, absolutely fucking wonderful.

– Kwame Anderson, Free Press Houston

An elegant acoustic album.

– Chicago Magazine

Like a stream peppered with stones and winding through eddies of life... this album is going to feel like a constant companion come autumn. Few songs here aren’t built for the brisk inhalation of decaying fauna underpinned with the rustle of breeze acting like natural percussion. Elkington is an almost preternatural songwriter, plucking songs from the air like they’d always existed. 

– Raven Sings the Blues

Juxtaposes gorgeous finger-picked circular melodies and lyrical wisdom with dark imagery and the occasional dissonance. The album is sure to assert Elkington into the already crowded crop of folk musicians who have been pushing the guitar to a new frontier for the better part of the decade, its compositions warm as they are at times unnerving and haunting. 

– Since I Left You

Deserves a lot of attention from careful listeners. Elkington's strength is his ability to meld a few very specific influences into something wholly his own. A superb slice of music.

– A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed

A strong suite of compositions that canter and curl with commanding calmness.

– Delusions of Adequacy

81/100. Wintres Woma is an album of crystalline clarity; one where every note is accounted for and where every small touch exists to serve the song. It’s a carefully made album but not self-consciously so, and is all the better for it. Meticulously crafted and performed with finesse, this is an excellent debut album from Elkington. 

– Gigsoup

Elkington shows just what a buoyant arranger he's become, as his vocals stretch out and constrict to complement his re-tuned guitar playing and strings. Wintres Woma is a great showcase for this extraordinary folk hero.

– Exclaim

Elkington’s guitar snakes through Wintres Woma like streams of ectoplasm in an old spirit photo. Those pictures of mediums summoning the invisible world were undoubtedly faked. Elkington’s magical mystery tour is the real deal.

- Pat Moran, Acoustic Guitar

It is an autumnal flurry of baroque intricacy that slips onward to its wintery aural landscape...willowy, wiry, windswept, haunting.

- Ian Abrahams, Record Collector

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