Artist: K Phillips
Album: Dirty Wonder
Label: Rock Ridge Music
Release Date: 03/10/2017
Add another great Texas singer/songwriter to your list. You may have missed his debut, 2012’s American Girls, which was quite good. This one has that same blend of literate lyrics and catchy hooks, and it’s even better. Phillips hails from Texas and, though he has relocated to Nashville, he remains in touch with his buddies from the Lone Star state, having Gordy Quist of the Band of Heathens handle the production and Rick Richards plays drums. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows joins Phillips on vocals for “Hadrian.” There are ten well-constructed and often seductively melodic tunes delivered through an array of instrumentation including Phillips’ keyboards, pedal steel, bluesy acoustic piano, both clean and psychedelic guitars, and gospel-like background vocals. His first album reminded me a bit of Leon Russell, but there’s less of that quality here. Yet, Phillips has an eminently listenable, soulful voice and the ability to blend together elements of country, blues, R&B and rock as he delivers his stories.
The album is essentially a breakup record but it doesn’t come across nearly as direct as most in that category. It’s part autobiographical, part imagined, and part observational, as he chronicles a third-party breakup which he witnessed first-hand. The songs are filled with both clever illusions and insights as Phillips portrays some interesting characters. “Hadrian” uses the story of the Roman Emperor as the allegory in describing a devolving relationship. “18 Year Old Girls” pokes fun at finding your footing after a breakup. Phillips adds, “In that song, the guy is talking to a girl much younger than he is, and he realizes they have nothing to talk about. It’s embarrassing.” The piano-driven “Dirty Wonder,” the title track, speaks to temptation in terms of the roving eye even when the relationship has many of the things one would want. “Rom Com” is short for romantic comedy, an ode to pop love. “Coal Burner” uses a speeding locomotive as the metaphor for a reckless approach to life, with lines like this: “No one looks at the rust and sees the rain. No one blames the tracks they blame the train… nothing moves me anymore.” The closer, “Hock the Horses” speaks a bit to a financial situation, I suppose, but it’s the psychedelic, distorted sound that sets it apart from the other tunes.
So, who is K Phillips and why the one letter first name? It seems as if he was born to do be musician. He was born in West Texas and raised by his grandparents. His grandfather was both a cattle rancher and criminal court judge. His mother was a radio disc jockey who named her only son after her favorite singer, Kris Kristofferson. K began playing guitar at the age of five and was writing songs at age six. When he was 18, he lost both his best friend and girlfriend in separate drowning incidents, compelling him to dig even deeper into music. He’s had plenty of tragedy to process at an early age and yet goes forward rather optimistically, showing both a sense of humor and hard-earned wisdom in his perceptive song writing.