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Review: Jose Gonzalez returns after hiatus with best work

February 19, 2015

Jose Gonzalez, “Vestiges & Claws” (Mute)

The latest album from Swedish-Argentine Jose Gonzalez was partly produced by himself in his kitchen and the intimacy is felt throughout “Vestiges & Claws.” Across 10 arresting tracks, Gonzalez plays his acoustic guitar with a graceful tranquility considering “what it’s all about” in his aching tenor.

His voice is at once fervid and fragile, and like Arthur Russell or Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, he often lightens his tone for emphasis. On lucid closer, “Open Book,” he stretches toward falsetto with the words, “I have so much left to give,” after whistling nonchalantly between the verses. On “Let It Carry You,” Gonzalez sings about loosening “built up tensions” over a rolling bass line and hand percussion.

A number of these songs have a pastoral air about them. Lead track “With the Ink of a Ghost” evokes the wistful, floral feel of Simon & Garfunkel. On “The Forest,” he looks through “landscapes blurred by rain” and asks: “Why didn’t I see the forest on fire behind the trees?”

Subtle detours are pleasant surprises. The sand-swept “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” sounds informed by the Tuareg band Tinariwen and the outskirts of the Saharan guitar scene. Whereas “Every Age” invokes the spirit of Woody Guthrie with its intent to “build a place where we all can belong.”

Gonzalez’s politics are grounded in humanism. His compassion on this pointedly titled album, his first since 2007, is palpable. His message seems to ultimately be about fighting through, growth and remnants of earlier selves that remain.

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