San Diego’s Master of Americana, Zach Phillips, takes a turn for the mystical
Release Date: 12th August 2022
Formats: Download, Streaming
It’s great to welcome some new product from Zach Phillips. Back in August 2020, we were smitten by the Southern Californian vibe of Zach’s third album, The Wine of Youth, about which we remarked upon “…the interesting, often unpredictable melodies, the evocative lyrics and the rich depth of Zach’s voice [that gives] his songs a certain unique quality.” Well, pleasingly, I can report that those qualities are still there – by the ladleful – on Zach’s latest offering, Goddaughters, but this time, Zach’s taken a deeper dive into his musical influences to come with a collection of songs that are altogether more intimate, confessional and thoughtful. There’s a strong folky presence on the album and the listener is left with the impression that life chez Zach Phillips has started to become a lot dreamier and – yes – more mystical than was previously the case.
There’s a growing sense of confidence that pervades Goddaughters, perhaps encouraged by the acclaim that The Wine of Youth deservedly received (amongst other accolades, it was nominated for a San Diego Music Award in the Best Americana Album category), and that seems to have encouraged Zach to explore a few new frontiers. As the album’s Press Release observes: “[Goddaughters is] a companion and dark sister to The Wine of Youth. It’s a roots-rock song cycle that draws as much from spectral dream-pop as it does from folk and indie.” As Zach explains: “My intention was to capture music that was both of the moment and slightly outside of time. The ‘goddaughters’ are the songs themselves. We tend to them and for a finite period, we live with them.”
Well, whatever the rationale and background is to Goddaughters, I can confirm that Zach Phillips has come up with an excellent album, packed with great songs, hooks and lyrics that anyone with a sensibility for well-constructed Americana will want to hear over and over again.
The folky, mystical and often cosmic theme of the album is evident right from the outset. Opening track, Cassiopeia, a Celtic tune with mandolins, organ, blasts of guitar and thunderous drums all claiming prominence in a baroque mix that reminded me of Mike Oldfield in his prime. Cassiopeia is both an astral constellation and also the mother of Andromeda, the fated beauty of Greek mythology, and Zach’s choice of title gives the first clue of the direction in which Goddesses is heading.
Fuzzy, jangling guitars and a crisp drumbeat provide the platform for Zach’s trademark laid back, reassuring vocal in Worshippers. Some nice, discrete piano joins the mix as Zach heads towards the song’s pay-off line: “Worshippers don’t stand still till the end – the end’s already come.” The softer, predominantly acoustic New Star is, perhaps something closer to the Zach Phillips of The Wine Of Youth, although the slightly sinister edge of Worshippers is not completely abandoned, particularly as the song reaches its dramatic fade-out; Zach’s guitar picking is exquisite and his vocals are as confident and mellow as at any point on the album.
By now, things are starting to get seriously interesting and the run of three songs that follow New Star are, for me at least, the highlight of the album. Harmony Grove is a surging, full-blooded rocker with a 90s indie feel. A grungy rhythm guitar is counterpointed by a soaring, resonant lead and the song’s pleasing riff gets right inside your head. The musical direction changes somewhat for Psychics as an organ riff and an insistent cymbal rhythm build a sense of anticipation that is absolutely satisfied when Zach’s guitars cut in, before we switch direction yet again for Goddaughters, the album’s majestic title track. A folky theme is set by more of Zach’s excellent fingerpicked acoustic guitar, before things take a spacy turn as organ and piano surge forward to create an ambience that becomes increasingly otherworldly as the song progresses.
A chiming, stomping tune provides the backing to Zach’s mellow voice for Curses, and it’s a combination that is gloriously elevating, particularly when Zach’s lead guitar starts to surge and soar. In stark contrast, The Hour When I First Believed is, perhaps, the album’s most intimate and confessional song. Zach’s vocals take centre stage, perfectly supported by an accompaniment of acoustic guitar, string effects and some lovely slide guitar licks.
Zach leaves his laid-back comfort zone to deliver a vocal that is both sincere and passionate for Courtesy of a True God and his guitar solo offers echoes of his hero, Richard Thompson (and you may recall that Zach contributed a eulogy to RT in our “Why I Love” feature back in September 1970.) The dreamy The Big Mountain takes us back into spacy territory before we once again take a rocky turn for penultimate track, Ocean of Song. A strong drum rhythm, swirling organ, barrelhouse piano and Zach’s signature slide guitar combine to provide a rock-solid groove, whilst mandolins and Zach’s voice add a delightful, melodic finish to a track that is another personal favourite.
Goddaughters closes in the same way that it opened, with a return to the cosmos of Greek mythology in Cassiopeia of the Stars, a final blast of cosmic, Celtic mandolin. It’s the perfect way to round off an adventurous, mystical, engaging and, above all, highly enjoyable album.
Watch the official video to Goddaughters – the album’s title track – here: