Anthony Wilson's "Frogtown" Will Have You Wondering

Anthony Wilson, best known as a jazz guitarist, has released an organic, occasionally “noir-ish”, sounding album on which he sets up and sings within cinematic musical landscapes, proving himself to be an equally compelling story teller. "Frogtown" is an area of Los Angeles, whose official name is "Elysian Valley". People live there but other than a lush stretch of the L.A. riverbed, there's not much there, which is how the people like it. The same can't be said of this record, which will have you wondering from where came this Anthony Wilson?

Wilson doesn’t ease into this new role—he jumps: opening with “She Won’t Look Back”, which sounds conjured up by Angelo Badalamenti with direction by David Lynch.

Not every musician can make convincing this kind of epic shift, but Wilson doesn’t force a note or vocal gesture unwinding a story that navigates skillfully from heartbreak to liberation.

The instrumental album title track that follows sounds like what greets the opening song’s protagonist when he descends down the “eastern side” and “sets down (his) pack”, but perhaps that’s a stretch. Warning though: once “Frogtown”’s celebratory trumpet line enters your brain, it’s not leaving anytime soon.

The first of the album’s four sides ends with “Your Footprint”, a dreamy, late afternoon-sounding drift down reverie that Wilson’s vocal nails. First play leaves you wondering where this Anthony Wilson has been hiding all of these years? If the goal was to establish a crossover foothold in Norah Jones’s musical territory, mission accomplished.

That was my thought before reading in the credits that Jones collaborator Jesse Harris plays harmonica on one tune. Harris’s Wikipedia page says his music has been described as a “blend of folk, rock, jazz and world rhythms” and that pretty much sums up what this record offers. Also onboard here on various tracks: Petra Haden, Patrick Warren, Jim Keltner and on one track Charles Lloyd.

Side two opens with “Occhi Di Bambola”, labeled a “traditional” tune, which translates as “ocular reflex-cephalic” or the reflexive means by which your eyeballs move in the opposite direction when you turn you head but I doubt that’s what it’s about. On the tune Wilson makes sure you remember his considerable guitar chops.

The side ends with “Our Affair”, a nostalgic look back on a broken family and how that put the singer on the road to the “affair”. Musically and lyrically the song reflects a rural Americana that again leaves the listener wondering from where came this Anthony Wilson. Petra Haden’s violin stars in the song’s backdrop.

The second record begins with a lilting instrumental that also features Haden’s violin and a lilting, melodic guitar line from Wilson that evokes the bucolic. It will make you feel good.

I’ll end the play-by-play though the other six tunes (particularly the gorgeous “Arcadia”) would be worthy of description. You’ll just have to discover them yourself.

Produced by Mike Elizondo, who also plays bass and synth bass, and engineered by Adam Hawkins at Can-Am Recorders, the album’s sound and the deftly drawn arrangements (for some reason uncredited) perfectly compliment Wilson’s dreamy, rural intentions (producer Joe Harley gets a “audio consultation” credit). The sound achieves a rare level of transparency, delicacy and three-dimensionality in today’s hard-edged audio world. Bernie Grundman cut lacquers from what I assume were high resolution files. I doubt you’ll ask yourself “why buy the vinyl?” after your first listen.

While those familiar with Wilson’s previous recorded output will be stunned and perhaps left confused after the first play, I think even those with no Wilsonian perspective will be equally moved by the record’s musical and sonic beauty and especially by Wilson’s evocative vocalizing. Who knew?

From the first note of the first song Frogtown engages and it doesn’t let go of its considerable grip for four sides. Don’t worry, I’m not going to write Frogtown “has legs”. Oops. I just did.

(Available at this time on

Anton D's picture

This is on the Stereophile site, as well.

Given those omens, it has been ordered....on vinyl, of course.

fbpearce's picture

Based on this I got a copy of Frogtown along with several of his other releases including Goat Hill Junket and Our Gang-available on SACD, top to bottom great, sound, ensemble, arrangements, etc. Well worth it.