Five years ago, in this space, I reviewed K Phillips debut album. That record was a tour de force featuring bluesy booze soaked vocals over melodies that combined Leon Russell, Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones. Phillips rose from unknown to scene A-lister. In the intervening time period between releases, Phillips has played a ton of shows, gone through a break-up, moved to Nashville, teamed up with Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz and lived a ton of life. This new collection, Dirty Wonder, highlights that journey while maintaining the same sound and style of the first effort. Thing this go around are just a pinch more somber, just a tad more cynical and have added a touch of Springsteen to the Leon and Stones influence.
On the debut K Phillips sang with a confidence and optimism that is missing here. This Phillips is reflective and wise. The songs reflect that newfound experience and wisdom. Album opener “Had Enough” encapsulates this dynamic both lyrically and musically. Phillips sings the title refrain over a simple, repetitive pair of riffs from his own piano and a fully-rounded electric guitar. Mentor Duritz steps in for some guest vocals on “Hadrian”, which is oddly enough the most country sounding affair Phillips has ever produced. The title track plows through sonic space shared with Phillips greatest influences. “18 Year Old Girls” is not as scandalous as the title suggests, it’s a takedown of modern society’s need to overshare, sexualize and in turn cause self doubt in all ages and sexes. “Coalburner” is one of the older tracks on this record, as I recall hearing Phillips play it live a number of years ago. The metaphor of an out of control railroad line lays the tracks for this tune about a lost life found amid the smoke and darkness. Easily one of the strongest songs on this record or on anyone’s record in a long time. “Nobody Does It” coalesces into a singalong jam that has all the best qualities of K Phillips music.
This record isn’t country, Americana or Texas/Red Dirt…it’s rootsy soul music with rock overtones. It essentially proves that labels are silly. It’s a rock record made by a sensitive songwriter who can bang on a piano like he’s the son of Jerry Lee Lewis, but writes a melody like he’s Cat Stevens. This is a wonder that isn’t dirty at all…it’s in fact very beautiful.