Even if you’re not into jam or roots music or reggae beats or the occasional dash of jamtronica, it’s hard not to like Josh Phillips. His music is just so groove-centric and catchy and dancey and so undeniably likable. So, let’s begin with the premise that Get Outside, the long-awaited and just-released sophomore effort from Josh Phillips Folk Festival is a keeper from the outset, and then we’ll try to figure out why it works so well.
First, there’s Phillips’ songwriting: Nothing crazy, but his subject matter — from romantic attraction, to loneliness, to what-does-it-all-mean esotericism — is approached from a fresh perspective. And then there’s Phillips’ singing style — parts dusky and drowsy, parts soulful and raspy, his voice is equally ragged and sweet. Like his writing, his singing is simultaneously comfortable and surprising. The comfy part is so much so that it’s hard not to sing along with him. He’s got that “everyone join in” air.
Secondly, there’s Phillips’ use of collaborators. Outside is an amalgamation of genres, styles and instrumentation. Horns? Check. Fiddle? Check. Vintage organ? Got that, too. Even Beasley (a musically-inclined K-9) is credited with barking on the spooky, slinky, Dr. John-esque “Giving it all to you.”
That song is a great canvas for the brassy work of the Asheville Horns (Greg Hollowell, Derrick Johnson and Ben Hovey) and the capricious bordello/juke joint piano playing of Sean Donnelly.
Opening track “Angelina” is an Appalachian approximation, a country death song filtered through Phillips’ funk/soul filter. Here, Nicky Sanders (Steep Canyon Rangers) lends a searing fiddle part while a cymbal shimmers with the hiss of a rattle snake and the dark thump and snarl of the song is flush with banjo, guitars and foot stomps.
The title track (which falls, unconventionally, at the end of the 10-song album) is, perhaps, Phillips at his best. There’s a luminosity to the song, a sleepy hush paired with wide-eyed wonder. “And I think I’ll just get outside and find a spot and lay down, wherever it looks inviting, and listen to the water flow,” sings Phillips in the Zen-among-the-chaos chorus. It’s a song about being human in the big world, about the golden in the mundane, about being in the moment — something we’d all do well to remember. The genius of the song, deceptive in its simplicity and ease, is that it actually forces the listener to be in the moment while listening. This track alone warrants signing by the Jack Johnson-founded Brushfire Records.
Other standouts on this buffed-to-a-shine collection include the sultry, cha-cha tempoed “Welcome Back” with Justin Ray (Michael Buble, stephaniesid) on trumpet, Jay Sanders (Donna The Buffalo, E.Normus Trio) on bass, River Guerguerian (Free Planet Radio) on percussion and Eric Sarafin on keys; and the bluesy “Mercy,” all fiery guitars and Roosevelt Collier (Lee Boys) lending a wailing lap steel part.
Phillips’ band is vocalist Debrissa McKinney, bassist Elijah Cramer, drummer Nik Hope, guitarist Casey Cramer and Ryan Burns on organ, clavinet and piano. Outside is available here as a name your price download.