Listen while you read: “She was waiting . . . ” (audio snippet)
I was browsing through the overload bins at the local record store and came across an intriguing cover with a lone, long-haired guitarist amidst a sea of dried mud. This image caught my attention and I began to wonder whether it was worth spending the .10 to experiment with this one–of course it was!
Shawn Phillips, who to me was an unknown when I picked up the album, was a platinum selling artist with this album in 1970. After looking him up on google, I now see that he continues to produce records alongside his full-time career as a fireman (Wikipedia article here, official website here). Phillips grew frustrated with record companies in the early 70s and decided to do something else with the majority of his time, despite his clear musical talent. The Wikipedia article also notes that he was originally cast as the main lead in Jesus Christ Superstar, but could not fill this role due to touring at the time.
Second Contribution (©1970 Dick James Music Limited) is a very well structured and performed piece, blending a variety of genres of music from basic folk to rock, blues and a little bit of jazz. There is a sense in which one could choose to categorize it as “progressive rock”. Phillip’s vocal range is also notable.
The opening piece (“She was waitin’ for her mother at the station in Torino and you know I love you baby but it’s getting too heavy to laugh“–his song titles can go on) which blends into the second (“Keep on”) illustrates the more full-blown blend of folk rock and orchestral arrangements that characterize a couple of tracks on the album. But I do not find this overdone. There is still a good balance in the music and we do not hear the “wall of sound” that was characteristic of Spector’s orchestral overdubs, for instance. The song builds in a slow yet sure way to its climax when it promptly transitions to the next track (when “Mama, I’m coming home” begins–here I have faded out the song shortly after this transition).
Listen while you read: The ballad of Casey Deiss (audio snippet)
There are also very subtle folk pieces such as “The ballad of Casey Deiss” which incorporates a progression of instruments, one by one (flute, bass, cello, vibraphone–it seems), alongside Phillips and his acoustic guitar. There is an overall calming, medieval atmosphere to the piece and Phillips’ vocals are permitted to stand out. Other pieces on the album further confirm Phillip’s creativity and musical intuition. The album as a whole, with its tracks blending together, has a coherency that is not often found in albums today, notwithstanding the likes of Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible.
I highly recommend this forgotten (to me at least) album.