On his fourth album Local Valley, and almost twenty years after his debut, it feels like Jose Gonzalez is finally having fun with his music. That’s not to say he wasn’t enjoying his career previously. But on his earlier output there has always been a tense and brooding feeling underneath his beautiful voice and exemplary finger picking. And while that still exists at times on his latest offering, in songs such as the aptly titled ‘The Void’ for example, there is also now a side of this singer that has moved towards peace and even, maybe, joy. On ‘Visions’ he encourages us to ‘Look at the magic of reality/While accepting with all honesty/That we can’t know for sure what’s next’. And in that lyric he seems to sum up the general feeling of the album as a whole – a mix of acceptance at the weight of the world on songs like ‘Horizons’, and an insistence that we enjoy the time we have while we are here.
‘Swing’ is the clearest example of this new mindset. And while I cringed slightly at this song on first listen, worrying that the inner perv had escaped into lyrics like ‘swing your belly, baby’, I later figured that there was more to this song than a simple plea to show some skin. Spending time with the song showed me that this is more a song about letting go and expressing yourself than it is anything overtly sexual. It definitely helped when I figured out that he was saying ‘hands’ and not ‘ass’ in the line ‘swing your hands like forest leaves.’ In fact, the longer I listened to this song the more it felt like a lovely ode to encourage a child’s abandon than the song to a lover that it first appeared. That would certainly seem to fit much more closely with the theme of the album.
In fact – and this might only be because I recently became a father myself – but so much of this album seems to be based around the advice and guidance you would give to someone looking to find their way in the world for the first time. ‘Head On’ gives some rather straightforward motivation, summed up neatly by the lines ‘Put on your new boots and deal with it/While marching on.’ ‘Lasso In’ encourages you to pay attention to your troubling thoughts and address them. But then to find ways that help you to ‘pat them off’ and move on. ‘Line Of Fire’ is probably the most redolent of the old Jose here, but even here there is a sense of imparting wisdom on another. As well as having fun on this album, Jose seems to be in a place where he wants to reach out and help others find their path.
Of course, this might all be undermined by the five songs on this album that aren’t in English. Maybe on those he tells the world to piss off. I doubt it, though. And in all honesty those songs really add to that new sense of freedom and acceptance here – as though Jose is modelling the behaviour of being you on your own terms. And while I am usually a very lyrics driven listener, it is impossible to ignore the beauty of songs such as ‘Valle Local’ and ‘En stund pa Jorden.’ These are two of the absolute standouts here. This leads me to probably the most important point of all here and one I haven’t touched on enough as yet; as always with a Jose Gonzalez album this is a set of truly exquisite songs. A mix of crisp, clean and expertly played guitars alongside one of the best voices in the business. This man could sing the McDonalds menu and I’d probably still play it on repeat.
Words by Fran Slater