It’s been 11 years since Northwest Jersey singer-songwriter Kathy Phillips’ last LP, but she has returned with the philosophical fun of “Soul Catcher.”
Has it really been 16 years since Kathy Phillips’ brilliant debut album, “Sway?” Wow, that time flew! I remember like it was yesterday giving her the Makin Waves Awards for Best Female Artist and Song of the Year for “Leaves Changing.”
With her long-awaited third LP, “Soul Catcher,” Phillips switches gears by sprinkling some Beatlesque pop onto her jazz-folk garden. She also has changed producers. Having teamed with Black Potatoe Records owner Matt Angus on her debut and the 2006 follow-up, “Carries You Away,” she now is produced by her longtime guitarist Walt Bibinger, who also co-wrote all 16 songs on “Soul Catcher.”
Walt cohesively melds their varied styles, including country gospel, but with a little more self-editing, they would have made this good record into a great one. I realize that to a songwriter, songs are like children and that it’s difficult to choose one over the other, but at the end of the day, the artist has to cut the cord and do what’s best for the art. At a much more manageable 12 tracks, “Soul Catcher” would have been a better and more impactful record, which I believe Phillips and Bibinger intended, given the wisdom about quality living that they share throughout. Maybe it’s a salute to the number of years since Phillips’ debut, but 16 songs is an awful lot to ask of a listener.
At least things start off great with the Brian Wilson/Phil Spector-inspired “Forever with You.” Also every bit as good as anything on “Sway” are the tongue-in-cheek country gospel of “Truth,” the “Hey Bulldog”-derived wisdom of “Live, Laugh, Love,” the vocally rich folk-rock of the heartbreaking yet reassuring “Better Days,” the dream-affirming funk-pop of “You’ll See,” the sassy jazz of “My Heart to You,” and the epic closer “Set Me Free,” especially the Santana-sounding bridge. I particularly love the sincere fun of “Truth,” which contemplates “a truth you can’t drink away,” and “Better Days,” which sounds like Alison Kraus and Union Station sitting in with the Grateful Dead.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of songs that don’t deserve to be on “Soul Catcher,” such as the cliché-ridden “Life’s Song,” the insipid “What’s Your Dream” and the sing-song saccharine of “What to Do.” I believe “Life’s Song” could have been great, especially with those luscious pop harmonies behind Phillips’ sweet Natalie Merchant-like vocal, but her lyrics are a mixed bag of wise and trite. Like nearly all of this record, the song has an extremely positive message for which Phillips and Bibinger should be applauded, but there is a fine line between uplifting and corny, and “Life’s Song” waivers.
The same could be said for “Now,” a Roy Orbison-inspired number that is vocally rich but too repetitive to be completely rewarding. I must say, however, that throughout “Soul Catcher,” Bibinger captures gorgeous, delicious Beatlesque backing vocals by him, Phillips and their longtime band mate, Kim Williams, whose rich talent also can be heard on the record’s keyboards.
Phillips doesn’t have much time to play out with her original material because she frequently appears as Stevie Nicks in the popular Fleetwood Mac tribute band Tusk, which also features Williams in the role of Christine McVee. Find out more at http://fleetwoodmactribute.com/TUSK.
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