Charlie Phillips - What It Is (2012)

I'm always reluctant to write about artists who are strictly part of the local music scene because reader interest is usually minimal. However, all artists start out with nothing more than small, local followings. There was a time when Elvis Presley was an unknown singer from Tupelo, Mississippi, when nobody knew The Beatles outside of Liverpool, and REM was just another band from Athens, GA. In today's almost totally connected world it's easier than ever for artists to spread their wings beyond home. A young band's music is no longer confined to just low wattage radio stations and seedy bars that are within a short car ride from their day jobs.

So, keeping all of that in mind I bring you Charlie Phillips who I've had the pleasure of seeing twice at a local suburban Philadelphia coffee house, Burlap and Bean in Newtown Square. Phillips currently plays there for free on the first Friday of every month and in January he hosted a CD release party for What It Is, his third album of original songs. His following is small but his fans are also quite a devoted bunch because they are fully aware of his multiple talents. The musician's business card advertises that he is a "performing songwriter." That's true because he's both a talented lyricist and a rock 'n roller who doesn't forget about the music behind the words.

What It Is is eclectic. The CD jumps out at you right from the starting gate with "Grace of God", a danceable, upbeat rocker about the role luck and fate can play in our lives. There are ballads too. "Just Not Ready Yet" and the title track are anything but sappy. Phillips plays acoustic guitar and harmonica but his band supports him with an array of keyboards, saxophone, accordion, and hot electric guitar work. There are also cellos, violas, and violins on the last three tracks. Overall, it's a smart work by a man who has been musically active in Delaware County, PA for the last fifteen years.

For the release party Phillips played all twelve tracks from What It Is and then he encored with four more songs: one of his original tunes, two by members of his band, and he closed the evening out with an all acoustic but quite powerful version of The Beatles' "Back In the U.S.S. R." The concert was definitely worth the one hour drive.

From anywhere in the world you can learn more about Charlie Phillips on his website and at ReverbNation where you can currently stream a whole bunch of tracks for free. You can buy What It Is at CD Baby and on iTunes.