On his previous effort, 2019’s Forecast, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer (and a member of Bruce Hornsby’s acclaimed Noisemakers) John Mailander abandoned traditional acoustic folk and bluegrass song structures for a more exploratory, improvisational approach. The result inspired Mailander to begin working under the moniker John Mailander’s Forecast, as a tribute to the collaborative effort of the musicians involved.
The first album under that new brand is Look Closer, and it continues where Forecast left off, digging deeper and finding even more avenues to explore. Containing only six tracks, Look Closer nonetheless gives Mailander and company plenty of room to stretch their creative and musical muscles. Where Forecast — with the exception of the buoyant title track — seemed to create an overall calming mood, Look Closer is more interested in the journey of discovery; a motif is established, but soon the musicians take flight, responding to each other in an aural dance that can sometimes feel like it’s about to go off the rails as it approaches the avant-garde (“But It Did Happen”) yet comes back to its main theme as in the best jazz and progressive music, making its return all the more exciting.
The title track stands out as David Williford’s sax dances atop Mailander’s Wurlitzer and the adventurous drumming of Mark Raudabaugh before a truly magnificent steel guitar solo by Chris Lippincott soars into the stratosphere until it returns to Earth to meet Williford again, bringing it all to a gentle close.
The instrumentals are joined by two covers, an appropriately adventurous take on Joni Mitchell’s “Borderline,” sung with knowing emotion by Kristina Train, and Lucinda Williams’ “Dust,” featuring vocalist Maya de Vitry. De Vitry’s calm as she hypnotically repeats the line, “Even your thoughts are dust,” while the musicians cause chaos all around her, captivates before the calm restores. Look Closer closes with a soft sigh, reflecting a gentle hope that there is indeed calm after the storm.