Last month we told you about an advance track by elemental Brit expat singer-songwriter David Philips. “A Sailor’s Song” gave much hope that the next album would be as good as his last one The Rooftop Recordings (2011). The time has just about arrived for that new one, dubbed December Wine (4 Track Tapes), and we find that Philips has changed some of his tactics, but his overall strategy of direct, honest, folk-blues blissfully remains intact.
The change in those tactics are even announced in the title: for these recordings, Philips used a vintage 1980′s model 4 track cassette recorder like the one he used to make home demos when first starting out. The intention was to do this for kicks, fueled by nostalgia as he was working out new songs, but those warm, imperfect sounds from the primitive device produced an appeal that complements the appeal of Philip’s own stripped down arrangements. “Do-it-yourself” is an economic necessity for some musicians, but Philips turns it into an advantage. Hell, it’s his calling card.
A four track rig and no one else to help (no, seriously, Philips played all the instruments, did all the engineering, mastering, production, etc.) sets no limits on what he can do. “A Sailor’s Song” is preceded by an instrumental variation on it. After that acoustic guitar/congas song we previewed, Philips experiments a bit with effects on “All Is Lost” and “Big Things” in ways that don’t get in the way of his songs. “Big Things” is not just about the megaphone resonance of his voice, Philips marries Delta blues with mysterious Middle Eastern chord progressions, something few outside of Led Zeppelin had dared to do, and do so effectively.
Full bass and drums back up Philips’ guitar on “Life On The Wing” and “The Man In The Moon Looks Scared,” which sonically simulate 60s pop but the timeless melodies are unattached to any era. For “Link In The Chain,” an abrasive electric guitar is used, along with a boss blues harp, which Philips blows into when he’s not singing the way Robert Palmer sings the blues.
Philips history and acumen as a highly skilled plectrist surfaces on a few occasions, such as the flawlessly fingerpicked instrumental “Rudy” and especially on the stunning fleet-fingerings performed on “Who’s Going To Save This Town.” The closing “Flamingo” is a soft, acoustic guitar-only improv perfectly set against the patter of the rain outside acting as a soothing kind of percussion.
All of which makes December Wine (4 Track Tapes) a most worthy follow up to The Rooftop Recordings, without it having to be a Rooftop Recordings, Vol 2. A man who scarcely needed to make a “return to roots” record found a novel way to connect back to his beginnings and in doing so, moved his music forward. Sometimes, low tech enables high quality, and it clearly does in the case of David Philips.