James Elkington released his debut solo record, Wintres Woma, on June 30, 2017 via Paradise of Bachelors. Elkington (an Englishman living in Chicago) is an inveterate collaborator who has toured, recorded, and/or collaborated with Jeff Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Joan Shelley and most recently Tortoise, amongst others. His assured debut, Wintres Woma—Old English for “the sound of winter” — draws from British folk, avant-rock, and jazz traditions alike. Recorded at Wilco’s Loft, it’s baroquely detailed and beautifully constructed, featuring both his baritone vocals and some of Chicago’s finest musicians.
Somewhere around 2011, Elkington stopped writing songs. He had been the leader of a band called The Zincs; a partner in a band called The Horse’s Ha; and had released an album of guitar duets with Nathan Salsburg, but the question of what he was going to do next loomed large. After a few years of playing in other people’s bands, Elkington found that contributing his energies to the music of others had revived the energy for his own. Part of that renewed creative vitality came from exploring the acoustic guitar in a new tuning, by working to hone his guitar skills and lyrical techniques in the downtime between tours, and by investigating his own musical heritage, which informed both his outlook and output in a profound way.
The resulting album at times conjures Kevin Ayers delivering a Dylan Thompson poem over a Bert Jansch song, all the while speaking in Elkington’s singular voice. The title, Wintres Woma, resonates in the icy limpidity of the arrangements, the snowy tumble of guitars and strings, and with Elkington’s gnawing consideration of how much cultural upbringing can bring to bear on one’s own creativity. Many of the album’s lyrics contend with the continuing strangeness of living in a different country. “For the most part it’s very liberating, but England is old, and there is a weird energy that comes from that country, an energy that doesn’t seem to feel the same in America. It took me moving away from home to feel it at all. I was so used to it that I didn’t know I was feeling it until I didn’t feel it anymore.”
Wintres Woma was recorded in five days 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 veterans of Chicago’s collaborative improvised music milieu.