Zach Phillips – The Wine of Youth: Album Review

First new album in 17 years from transplanted Californian, Zach Phillips, leaves a Peaceful, Easy Feeling.

Release Date:  3rd April 2020

Label: Self Release

Formats: Digital

Originally a Chicagoan, Zach Phillips has transplanted himself into the Southern Californian city of San Diego.  The Wine of Youth is his third album, recorded after a lengthy hiatus (his second album, Still Night was released as long ago as 2003) and is, essentially, a series of odes to his adoptive home state. 

There’s certainly a strong Californian vibe throughout the album and, whilst on several tracks the spirits and influences of Jackson Browne and J.D.Souther are clearly detectable; the interesting, often unpredictable melodies, the evocative lyrics and the rich depth of Zach’s voice give the songs a certain unique quality.

The album has something of a “home-made” feel; unsurprising perhaps as it was recorded in producer Gregg Montante’s San Diego home studio, and whilst that home-made quality benefits several of the songs including Ladybird, Spirits Rising From the Lake and Cascadia, there are moments when the instrumentation (particularly some of the lead guitar licks) tend to overwhelm the voice and the melody.  But that’s a minor criticism – there are, indeed, some excellent songs in this collection.

The album opens with A Sky Full of Diamonds, a 46-second burst of chiming mandolins, which leads into the aforementioned Ladybird, an early taste of the quality on offer – a slice of Californian soft rock laced with some nifty quasi-psychedelic guitar touches.  The Jackson Browne influence is, perhaps, most keenly felt on Spirits Rising From The Lake, another compulsive Californian rocker with some tasty pedal steel-like effects.

Cascadia is a chugging bar-room rocker with a Status Quo rhythm and some nice lead guitar work above the riffage.  Cemetery Girl is a tasteful ballad, packed with desert imagery and Caroline – another excellent song – begins life as an introspective folk song before morphing dramatically into a full-blown power ballad.

For me, the albums highlights include Light is Light, a gentle, contemplative song on which acoustic guitars blend together behind a clear vocal delivering insightful lyrics about the transient nature of life, Hey San Diego, a country-style homage to California’s southernmost city, and The Wine of Youth, an enjoyable piano ballad with thought-provoking lyrics. 

Best of all though, is Doesn’t Feel Like California – a reflection on the potential for natural disasters (fires and earthquakes are both alluded to) in this most intriguing of US States.  The song has just about everything – a great tune, great lyrics and tasteful instrumentation – and it’s possibly the best song I’ve heard in a long time about one of my favourite parts of the world.  Again, though, I raise my minor criticism: this great song could have been even better if the electric guitar had been lower in the mix or perhaps left off altogether.

Zach Phillips is something of a multi-instrumentalist and, on The Wine of Youth, he plays guitars, keyboards and mandolins.  He is supported by producer Gregg Montante, who plays bass, drums and guitars, Bob Cressey on organ and piano and Gloria Taylor, who adds backing vocals.  A nice slice of Californian sunshine that leaves the listener with that elusive Peaceful, Easy Feeling.

Listen to Doesn’t Feel Like California from the album below.

Zach Phillips:  Website

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