Magic is afoot in James Elkington’s debut solo album Wintres Woma. The collection, which takes its title from the Old English for “the sound of winter,” tethers Elkington’s mystic yet matter-of-fact worldview to labyrinthine guitar lines as strong and supple as a serpent’s spine.

The Chicago-based English guitarist draws on his previous collaborations with Richard Thompson, Jeff Tweedy, and Nathan Salsburg, and goes one step beyond. Here, the time-signature-slipping arrangements are more playful, and the melodies shuffle through jazz, British folk, and chamber pop.

Elkington’s rippling picking emerges from the mist on “Wading the Vapors,” a fogbound journey recast as a lucid dream, where Tomeka Reid’s cello groans like an unseen beast. Harmonics ping like sonar over slack and slippery lap steel on “Grief Is Not Coming,” which equates the title emotion with an anticipated squall.


On “When I Am Slow,” Elkington questions the “the trembling joists” that support the doors of perception. Dissonant bent notes and vertiginous arpeggios underline the tune’s groggy unease. The theme of reality as a funhouse mirror is reinforced in “The Parting Glass,” a somersaulting instrumental where Elkington’s guitar tone slides between harpsichord, hammered dulcimer, and a music box winding down.

Elkington’s guitar snakes through Wintres Woma like streams of ectoplasm in an old spirit photo. Those pictures of mediums summoning the invisible world were undoubtedly faked. Elkington’s magical mystery tour is the real deal.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.