Josh Phillips – New Beginnings

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Josh Phillips combines an impeccable musical education and clear artistic vision on his debut EP New Beginnings. This is another pop country entry in a musical universal increasingly dominated by heavy-handed practitioners of the form, but Phillips is a refreshing breath of fresh air in this crowded field. His aims are deceptively modest. Rather than taking bead on the lowest common denominator, Phillips disdains most of the genre’s formulaic subject matter and writes songs dealing with interpersonal relations and self-reflection. This stylistic decision, in some senses, places him more in the singer/songwriter camp, but his ultra-accessible approach and grasp of memorable pop melodies are a few important clues that his aims are more widespread. The six songs on his debut are written with a discerning intelligence hopeful that you might stop and consider your own lives and experiences, but they are undoubtedly aiming to entertain and move the audience.

He definitely moves listeners with the first song, “Completely Out of You”. The powerhouse drumming pushing the song gives it a rock and roll frame while the guitars lay back and flesh out the track. Phillips’ vocal fuels the song with a necessary amount of vigor and completely convinces the listener. It sounds like an unprompted outcry rather than a premeditated vocal. Phillips reins in his vocals on the second track, “Steal Me Away”, to marvelously understated effect. The accompanying musicians do a breathtakingly seamless job of invoking mood in a similarly even-handed fashion. The lyrical content is, perhaps, the most outright poetic on the entire release and illustrates the diversity of Phillips’ talents.

“A New Tomorrow” is a song that only a young or an old man would write. There’s recognition of life’s possibilities, bittersweet and otherwise, self-reflection, and a deep amount of insight. Phillips magnifies these qualities with a stirring, but sensitive, vocal that revels in the strong relationship between the words and music and explores every emotional corner of the track. “Leave in Love” is cast in the same mold, but it’s a little more fragile and intentionally threadbare. Phillips’ ambitions rise to the fore, however, on the penultimate track “Inspired”. Phillips marries a number of musical elements here and introduces piano to his songs for the first time. The piano anchors the song melodically and gives Phillips a chance to show off another side of his singing talents playing against its melodic possibilities. The EP concludes with “No Sleep Tonight”. It’s quite unlike any of the earlier songs and a pure, entertaining expression of Americana. Phillips’ breezy vocal guides the band through a rollicking blues tribute full of expressions and tropes anyone over the age of 20 has heard a few hundred times in popular songs, but it doesn’t matter – Phillips recharges them with his appealing vocals and performing charisma.

New Beginnings heralds the start of a great and likely long career. Phillips shows enough diversity here to make us wonder what future paths he might take while still remaining grounded enough in traditional forms that he’ll never venture too far from his roots.

9 out of 10 stars.

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Gilbert Mullis