Performing Arts | The Reconnoisseur

The supremely delicate music of José González

It’s his nimble guitar-picking that makes him special

The supremely delicate music of José González

Image: Getty Images

March 22 2010
David Cheal

A few years ago a TV advert for the Sony Bravia television attracted widespread attention, thanks chiefly to its striking image of countless multicoloured rubber balls bouncing down the vertiginous streets of San Francisco. But there was another reason why the ad stuck in the collective memory: its soundtrack, Heartbeats, a song performed by a then little-known singer and guitarist called José González, was haunting and sweet and featured some meticulous acoustic guitar picking. Thanks to the ad, the song took off.

It could have been one of those one-hit-wonder moments, but witnessing a show by González at the time convinced me that he had staying power: there was something hypnotic about his calm and reflective songs. And indeed he has subsequently made something of a name for himself with music that reflects his Swedish-Argentinian background – quietly restrained, but emotionally rich. He’s not a great singer, being a bit mumbly in the vocal department, but it’s his guitar playing that makes him special – nimble, subtle and fluttery, infused with the Spanish influences of his ancestry, but with a hint of Brazil, too. And he has an intriguing line in cover versions: songs by artists as wide-ranging as Kylie Minogue and Joy Division have made it into his repertoire.

All of which is a good reason to anticipate his forthcoming appearance at London’s Royal Festival Hall, where he is playing in May as part of the venue’s London Guitar Festival. This lovely concert hall, with its revamped acoustic and attentive ambience, is a terrific place to witness this shy but gifted man: elsewhere his supremely delicate music might be in danger of becoming drowned out by background noise, chattering audience members, or even the whir of air conditioning (when I saw him, there was one moment in the show when the only sound came from a percussionist’s finger tapping ever so gently on a conga drum). But here there will be nothing to distract or detract from the quietly compelling power of his music.

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