Review: Jonathan Wilson returns to roots for ‘Dixie Blur’

This cover image released by BMG/Bella Union shows “Dixie Blur” by Jonathan Wilson. (BMG/Bella Union via AP)

Jonathan Wilson, “Dixie Blur” (BMG/Bella Union)

Jonathan Wilson revisits his Southern roots on “Dixie Blur,” an album loaded with many gently reflective songs about youth, relationships and loss.

Wilson, whose long resume includes ’70s-inspired solo albums, production work and a touring stint with Roger Waters, recorded the album in six days in Nashville with first-rate session musicians, including legendary fiddler Mark O’Connor, Russ Pahl on pedal steel and bassist Dennis Crouch.

Produced by Wilco’s Pat Sansone, the album benefits from a light touch and the group setting that lets the songs’ folky, acoustic sounds breathe.

“Dixie Blur” opens with a restrained, mellow cover of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s “Just for Love,” setting the mood for much of what follows.

“’69 Corvette” is full of nostalgia for family, expressing grief amid a flood of memories, while “Oh Girl” may not have an altogether original title, but its wild middle section, Jim Hoke’s harmonicas and lines like “Missing someone is a kind of hurt a heart should be grateful to feel” make it one of the album’s highlights.

O’Connor doubles on violin and acoustic guitar on “So Alive” and he also helps enliven “El Camino Real,” which sounds like a bluegrass extravaganza played on the Mexican border.

“Riding the Blinds” cites several blues and rock terms, from “C.C. Rider” to the killing floor, while the characters on “Enemies” appear triumphant on an anthemic anthem in the style of the late Willy DeVille.

At the end, “Golden Apples” and “Korean Tea” wrap themselves in exquisite melodies, as the first wonders about a romance that could have been much more, and the second broods over a burst of fame and fortune that may arrive, or not.

“Dixie Blur” is an excellent, wonderfully understated effort from Wilson, who digs into new depths of emotion, but wearing his heart on his sleeve much more than his record collection.