Phil Whatever Happened to Your Loving Heart

[Achord; 2005]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: country/folk, singer-songwriter, Male Introspective
Others: Akron/Family, Will Oldham, Hayden

Phil is going to be a difficult guy to talk about, owing at least partially to his modest moniker. He's a 24-year-old guy who spent some time (college, presumably) in Ithaca, NY, where most of this album was recorded, before moving to that cradle of culture, Brooklyn. This is Phil's debut album, upon which he was lucky enough to have collaboration and production provided by members of Young God nightlights Akron/Family, principally multi-instrumentalist Ryan Vanderhoof. Whatever Happened to Your Loving Heart sounds appropriately rich and full, much like Akron/Family's own self-titled debut. Phil makes use of the talents of more than ten other folks on his record, and to good effect: because the songs themselves are relatively samey in tempo and delivery, the depth of instrumentation gives the recording the feeling of a much-loved labor.

The album isn't without its drawbacks, however. Phil's voice is up front and center on every track, especially "Used Up," and he simply doesn't have much charisma as a singer -- not the piercing tenor or odd phrasings of singers like Jason Molina or Will Oldham, nor the dramatic baritone of Hayden. While he's not quite a sobbing Conor Oberst at the mic, Phil just doesn't have the kind of voice that could transform Whatever Happened to Your Loving Heart from pleasant to arresting. Surely Vanderhoof realized that; his band's records (and their performances) thrive off the strength of vocal harmonies. Phil transcends in this arena just once, when his friends all suddenly (and startlingly) chime in for the final chorus of “The Happy Song." Sure, they're probably all spoiled Ithaca kids, but it's a nice moment.

As happens nearly all the time in any genre-classifiable music, Phil's shortcoming is a failure to escape easy pigeonholing. Whatever Happened to Your Loving Heart is a good record not for the presence of anything innovative, but because of the care taken in its craft: songs, arrangements, and even packaging. Especially recommended if you thought Sings Greatest Palace Music was a good move for Will Oldham.

1. The Sucker
2. Back Door
3. Left Coast
4. Joke's On Me
5. Used Up
6. Bourbon Love
7. The Light
8. Spotless
9. The Happy Song