Pittsburgh Union of Record Geeks electronic

Monday, September 25, 2006

John Phillips- John The Wolfking of L.A. (2006 reissue)

Without hearing this album, it would be easy to chalk up John Phillips as a guy who wrote a small handful of good pop songs, presented them in the most commerically viable manner possible with the Mamas and the Papas, ran that group and his subsequent ventures like a diabolical asshole, lined his pockets and retired to live like a rock star without actually creating much until it caught up with him in 2001.

Turns out he made maybe the best singer-songwriter album of that genre's turn of the '70s heyday that didn't have Neil Young's name on the cover. With its well placed pedal steels and honky tonk pianos, it clearly leans toward country-rock as well, but comes out sounding far more L.A. than Nashville. But more like a country writer than Dylan or Gene Clark, Phillips provides snapshots that convey the emotions of the lyrics through their starkness and clarity rather than evocative poetry.

There remain "cute" moments like those that provided many of the M & P's highlights, "Drum," a literal telling of a drum set being snatched outside a gig, Phillips' vocal trade offs with the female background singers on the sailor's tale "Captain (The Mermaid)," and his scat singing on "Down the Beach," though that obscures a sorrowful telling of his separation from Mama Michelle. But the opening quartet of "April Anne," "Topanga Canyon," "Malibu People," and "Someone's Sleeping" are all impeccably constructed and should have been the envy of "serious" writers the like of Leonard Cohen, a young Jackson Browne, or anyone else. "Holland Tunnel" fits well as a breezy closer, and namechecks Pittsburgh.

Phillips' voice was rarely heard amongst the three featured vocalists in the Mamas & Papas, but is sensitive and engaging in much the manner of George Harrison in his early solo years, with the occasional seemingly intentional Dylanesque sneer thrown own. He sings out on a few choice occasions, though, to surprisingly strong results.

This would be Phillips' only solo album released during his lifetime, and it has received little recongnition, which hopefully this new reissue will help to remedy. Seven outtakes are included, which are interesting though there is nothing than measures up to the album tracks. A weaker alternate mix of "Mississippi" that hit number 32 on the pop charts in 1970 is also tacked on.


Blogger rob said...

Whoa, weird. I don't think I'd ever heard of John Phillips before today, but right before I read your review of his album I came across this.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Hazy Dave said...

Hey, man, just a quick note to express appreciation for your Phillips, Clark, GP, Move, et cetera, articles. Nice work!

11:39 AM  

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