Review: David Philips – The Rooftop Recordings
by S. Victor Aaron
Making up tunes and whiling away the hours with an acoustic guitar on a roof terrace of a flat in an exotic locale like Barcelona, Spain seems like a dream way for one to spend their days. British expatriate troubadour David Philips has lived that dream, but he’s sharing that dream with us through his upcoming CD The Rooftop Recordings.
On just his second album, Philips does away with already sparse accompaniment of Heal Yourself Alone and made The Rooftop Recordings all by himself, save for the remastering. Recorded in a room that leads out to the roof terrace, Philips engineered, produced and mixed a record that featured only him, his acoustic guitar and guest appearances by his 3 string cigar box guitar, a ukulele and a lap style dobro. Oh, and also a harmonica and some percussion provided by foot stomping here or there. All twelve songs are fresh new tunes that Philips conceived in that Spanish flat.
Having worked as a guitar sideman for such various acts as Brian Jackson (Gil Scott-Heron, Kool and the Gang), George Braith, Charlie Wood (Albert King), Alvin Youngblood Hart, Hook Herrera (Richie Sambora, Govt Mule) and Geoff Young (Sting, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne), Philips could have continued going on making records for others but some 5-6 years ago he discovered a passion as a singer-songwriter and his solo career was launched. So, Philips hadn’t been doing this folk/blues gig all his life, it only sounds that way.
It’s clear from the sparse setting that Philips is seeking to connect to listeners on record the same way he would in some sidewalk cafe or small bar: as a minstrel, narrating compelling tales of love, hopes and dashed hopes, with solidly-built melodies and memorable lines. Prose like “time slips on by unheard like a snake/until it rears up and bites you and then it’s too late” tends to linger on long past the listen. He spins tales about regretful of “playing it cool” in a relationship (“You Didn’t Make Me”), tricking a lover into revealing her true feelings (“Kind Stranger”) and a man from a colder region who aspires to live in a warmer one (“Raised In The North”). Philips delivers his lines with quiet conviction, his vocal cadence serves to telling the story and making them more compelling.
His experience as a hired hand guitarist comes handy; an accomplished technique that never falters despite these being live, no-dubbed, one take recordings. He doesn’t seek to be flashy—this is a record about telling stories with straightforward melodies—but his fingerpicking abilities accentuate songs like “Who Am I?” and “Tied Up, Gagged And Bound.” Taped with the windows open, if you listen real heard you can pick up the sounds of a Barcelona neighborhood, but there’s nothing unprofessional about the recordings; it’s clean as a whistle and the voice and guitar is mic’ed up just right.
A Chris Smither from the other side of the pond, Philips keeps it straightforward simple, making The Rooftop Recordings a simple pleasure.