Phil Madeira is a Renaissance man. He’s an in-demand sideman in Nashville — he played keyboard and accordion at the recent Songwriting with Soldiers concert there — he’s a constant in Emmylou Harris’ band, the Red Dirt Boys, he’s a soul stirrer in the gospel music world, and he shines brightly in the jazz world with his inventive, spacious compositions and his improvisational piano scores.
Madeira shines brilliantly on Open Heart, putting down layer upon layer of subtle beauty and melodious joy. The album opens with the soulful “Requiem for a Dream,” floating along a phrase from John D. Loudermilk’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” Madeira’s gospel jazz piano chords open the song, and from the opening measures the sonic beauty of his music transports us. The music circles higher and higher as the background singers elevate the song with their vocals in the chorus. The song celebrates the joy of what once was, even as it ponders “how do you know how / how to let go” and to look hopefully to the future. The Steely Dan-like “The Likes of Me” rides along Madeira’s jumping piano chords, crystalline lead guitar lines, and punchy horns.
The pensive “Rock on Your Shore” features a gospel-tinged piano floating under vocals that reflect on the virtues and shortcomings of being someone else’s emotional “rock” during stormy, and calm, times. Madeira and his band let loose on “Shelter You,” a jumping, free-flowing jazz tune that steers jauntily around corners, propelled by Madeira’s rolling piano chords weaving around riveting lead guitar licks. The New Orleans swinger “Remember Me,” featuring Cindy Lavone Morgan on harmony, pleads “Remember me when you hear this song / maybe in your sleep after you’ve long gone,” Madeira sings. “You got inside my soul, I can’t say how / Your heartbeat echoes in my here and now.” The album closes with “Monk,” a moving tribute to Thelonius Monk and the power of music to lift us out of the doldrums or to comfort us: “Let’s put on some Monk and let’s get lost in time.” It’s a perfect ending to an album that opens in a similarly dreamlike state.
Phil Madeira deserves to be even better known than he is, and Open Heart can change that, for it showcases his wide musical range, his ingenious songwriting, and his ability to weave beauty out of everyday moments of love and loss.