David Philips – If I Had Wings (2015)

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Like his American peer Kelly Joe Phelps, UK-born troubadour David Philips is a jazz musician trapped in the soul of a folk-blues singer-songwriter. You can find traces of his acuity for that in the fluent and dexterous way he throw off asides, handles chord changes or improvises from a simple, six-string acoustic guitar. He also has a fondness for rock and other music forms, and so, not all of what his background suggests would lead you to believe that he’s the pared-down, acoustic musician his records presents him to be.

And that’s what makes his newest record If I Had Wings (March 2, 2015 from Black And Tan Records) his most intriguing so far, by far. Philips pulls the curtain back some on his vast abilities, revealing a man who’s comfortable around jazz, psychedelia…even electronica.

Funny thing is, If I Had Wings doesn’t at all forsake where he’s been as a solo artist; David Philips firmly remains that do-it-yourself, singer-songwriter who plays all the instruments and sings all the vocals himself, and whose main weapons of choice are an acoustic guitar and a weary, expressive croon. He doesn’t divert from this winning formula so much as supplement it.

That much became clear from the advance single, the pretty, ethereal number “Angel,” and confirmed by the remaining nine tracks. We’re eased into these extra sonic dimensions, not jolted into them, as Philips simply weaves them into the essentially acoustic fabric of his songs.

“Up There,” in fact begins with nifty fingerstyle guitar, and his voice lays his soul bare. The first sign that’s something is different here about this album is the rich backup harmonies, and he utilizes more of that here than he’s done on prior records. He seems to be speaking to a loved one “up there” in heaven and the angelic theme reoccurs on “If I Had Wings,” and obviously, “Angel.”

Celestial references come from aural touches, too: “Hummingbird” has a spacy sonic backdrop that lurks way back in the distance. “Suffocate (Drift Away)” is one of Philips’ usual simple arrangements until for the final chorus, a snare/hi-hat backbeat enters with a single synth line that’s barely noticeable but yet bolsters the harmony.

There’s an increasingly psychedelic guitar on “Quiet” as analog-style synthesizer lines work their way into mix, but the most unconventional thing Philips does is with the song construction for this folk tune: it’s bookended by a slow groove lavished by gospel harmonies, but there’s an extended middle section operating on a different tempo (framed by programmed percussion that’s perfectly blended in) without a change in the key.

The apex of Philips’ experimental bent comes in the twelve-minute epic “Venomous Soul,” where the drums and saxophone are handled by Caspar St. Charles. A stretched out folk rock jam akin to Neil Young’s “Down By the River,” it appears they’re done almost five minutes in, and then it re-starts at a slower tempo. Philips’ psychedelic electric guitar lead raises its freaky head again, shimmering and vibrating for over four minutes straight.

Almost as a counterweight, the program ends with “What Will I Do Without You,” which is just Philips’s voice and acoustic guitar, but also a tender jazz ballad, not a folk song. And something of which he’s clearly up to the task.

If I Had Wings is a taller task altogether for Philips, or is it just the multi-talented musician liberating himself from the confines of staying within the lines of one genre to assimilate more ideas? To my ears, it’s clearly the latter.

Check out David Philips’ website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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