Drawing from British folk, avant-rock, and jazz traditions alike, Wintres Woma - Old English for "the sound of winter" - is James Elkington's debut solo record, but you've likely heard his masterful guitar playing and arranging, even if you didn't realize it. Elkington (an Englishman living in Chicago) is an inveterate collaborator who brings his lyrical compositional and improvisational sensibilities to any group. He has toured, recorded, and/or collaborated with Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Joan Shelley, Nathan Salsburg and Brokeback, to name just a few of his many enthusiastic admirers.
This assured album is baroquely detailed and beautifully constructed, featuring both his baritone vocals and some of Chicago's finest. Wintres Woma was recorded at Wilco's studio, The Loft, in a five-day sprawl with engineer Mark Greenberg. Elkington played and arranged all the instruments, with the exception of upright bass from Nick Macri, percussion from Tim Daisy, and string performances from Macie Stewart and Tomeka Reid, all of whom are veterans of Chicago's collaborative improvised music milieu. At times the results conjure Kevin Ayers delivering a Dylan Thomas or Gerard Manley Hopkins poem over a Bert Jansch song, all the while speaking in Elkington's singular voice, and shot with indelible melodies.
Opener "Make It Up" takes off at breakneck speed propelled by the snaking rhythm section, as Elkington pointedly recounts the time he almost crashed his car trying to get to a séance on time (mostly fiction). "Wading The Vapors" deals with one of those memories so distant that it has ceased to feel like it really happened and showcases an astounding cello solo from Reid. "Greatness Yet To Come" features Elkington's labyrinthine guitar front and center in a tale of '80s mid-teen hallucinogenic excess (mostly non-fiction), dissolving soon after into a cinematic reverie recalling Ennio Morricone at his most languid.