Jason Wilber transports the thoughtful, minimalism of his work with John Prine into his new album Time Traveler | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Jason Wilber transports the thoughtful, minimalism of his work with John Prine into his new album Time Traveler 

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click to enlarge Jason Wilber

Jason Wilber

Courtesy of WilberTone Records

Jason Wilber is known to audiences around the world for his impeccable guitar tones and tasteful playing in support of the late John Prine over the past 25 years. As Prine’s musical director, Wilber helped steer him back to the minimal sound of his records from the early 70s and, in the process, showcased that material’s lyrical and emotional weight. Throughout, Wilber also released his own impressive body of work. His latest album, Time Traveler, is his finest hour; its transfixing songs are as quiet and sparsely arranged as Prine audiences have come to expect from Wilber onstage, but the style is unmistakably his own. “I was there at the dawn of the here and the now when I opened my eyes and cried,” he sings in the first lines of the title track, which opens the record. “And throughout the years, all of my fears have come true a thousand times.” These meditative folk songs circle a central theme: the negligence of humans toward the environment and themselves. But Wilber is too good a songwriter to write mere polemics. These songs are their own excursions into reflective dreamscapes (“The Old Ones”), folk blues (“Spider”), acoustic pop (“Dust to Dust”), and other prime singer-songwriter fare. His protagonists are often outcasts: In “The Disappearance of Bigfoot,” Sasquatch is a wild beast attuned to her world until the scent of man wafts by and gets her running. In “Living Space,” an astronaut tumbles through the stratosphere and figures out that space “wasn’t what it was supposed to be . . . I miss my dog / I miss my family.” Wilber has a unique perspective about the planet too: “We took it all for granted like a spoiled kid / Now we live to regret it.” Wilber’s relaxed vocals, like Paul Simon’s, make those kinds of lines hang an extra beat until their gravity brings up a lump in your throat. Time Traveler isn’t a drum record: Wilber’s finely laced guitar and mandolin arrangements are accented by Susan Anderson’s violin and Shannon Hayden’s cello. Producer Paul Mahern (a studio veteran from Bloomington, Indiana, who’s worked with the likes of Blake Babies and John Mellencamp) makes every moment glow. Despite its somber themes, nothing on Time Traveler is meant to dull the pain; instead, these songs will likely make you feel at peace living with it.   v

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