“I wish Ray Charles was still alive so I could play him Jason’s version of Paradise!” – John Prine
“…a master musician who found a voice to match”
– Peter Cooper
“He brought the crowd to pin-drop silence with his rendition of Leon Russell’s A Song for You.”
– No Depression
The story behind ECHOES:
Jason Wilber sings and plays guitar for John Prine, one of the English speaking world’s most celebrated and revered songwriters. It’s kind of like playing for Walt Whitman or Mark Twain. It’s the sort of role that can define a musician, and most would be well-pleased with that: “A legend’s right hand man” has a ring to it. But Wilber– a deft songsmith in his own right, whose works have drawn comparisons to folk and Americana titans, even John Prine himself –has always been on a quest. Seeking the “trials and revelations”, as Joseph Campbell once put it, along his own artistic journey.
So a few years ago it dawned on Wilber that, while he had put in his “ten thousand hours” (in Malcolm Gladwell terms) achieving mastery on the guitar, he hadn’t done the same with singing. “I’d always operated on the unconscious assumption that my singing voice had been more or less set at birth and couldn’t be improved much.” says Wilber, “I’m not sure why I thought that, although in discussing it with other people since then it seems to be a fairly common assumption.”
Wilber decided to challenge that belief, and began applying to his singing the same kind of disciplined study and practice that made him a world class guitar player. It took several years before he started reaching his goals, but he says it was an amazing journey: “Becoming a better singer was much more difficult and time consuming than I expected, but much more rewarding too. Improving my singing abilities has further deepened for me the joy of making music.”
Although, by Wilber’s own admission his vocal improvement project was a holy hassle at first, in time a master musician found a voice to match. The result is something like when a dominant speedball pitcher finds a devastating sinker, except what’s bad for a batsman turns out to be good for a listener.
You can hear all this for yourself on ECHOES, Wilber’s ninth solo album and his first to focus on material written by other songsmiths. The material here—and material is as lousy a word as can be conjured for such artful beauty—arrived in Wilber’s care seeming disparate and disjointed. It emerges seamless and certain. Songs from Leon Russell, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, Graffiti6, and others—are delivered with gentle invention by Wilber and producer/engineer Paul Mahern, with aid from drummer Devon Ashley on “The Game” and “Annie You Save Me.”
And the vocals…sing along, or try to, with Wilber’s take on Wonder’s masterpiece “Overjoyed,” and you’ll understand something of the journey and the payoff. You’ll understand Wilber’s deep empathy for the song, and his inspiration for the singing. You’ll understand why Wilber is Prine’s guy, and more than that.