THE GRATEFUL DEAD HOUR on KPFA, Berkley California
JOHN PEEL on the BBC
NPR on "MORNING EDITION"
WRAS 88.5 Atlanta
WQRZ 103.5 FM Bay Saint Louis, MS
SPARKS:Phillips' new album highlights his depth of touch as a player and
composer. These are memorial songs, written for departed souls and
their survivors. But the shivers and spires in Phillips' melodies and
attack are bright elegy, the sound of shadows beaten back by ecstatic
GUITAR PARTY: Recorded in 1990, just liberated on disc, Guitar Party is a blazing covers soiree in the '67 spirit of an all-night Fillmore dance concert. Henry Kaiser is an experimental-guitar star equally schooled in Derek Bailey and Jerry Garcia. Glenn Phillips played in mad late-Sixties jammers the Hampton Grease Band and has made hot instrumental albums since 1975. With a firm rhythm section and guest singers, the pair swim and sear through Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and Fred Neil tunes. A kind bonus: a timing guide, to the second, of Kaiser's and Phillips' individual - and lethal - solos.
David Fricke June 12, 2003
Since his days as lead guitarist for the legendary Hampton Grease Band three decades ago, Glenn Phillips has been making innovative and original instrumental music. Commercial it's not but it is accessible if you take the time to listen. Phillips' music is a combination of tone and texture that's coupled with expert technical playing. No, this isn't "guitar tech" flash or endless jamming; instead Phillips uses his guitar just like a voice to express an array of emotions. Despite being instrumental this is a "song" album with lots of structure, resplendent in its complexity. This is evident in the sinewy, effect-laden Floaters, the pastoral beauty of For Carole and the controlled tenacity of the title cut.
Mick Skidmore April/May 2003
RAPID RIVER MAGAZINE
Glenn Phillips: Angel Sparks
Henry Kaiser/Glenn Phillips: Guitar Party (Gaff Music)
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars)
This pair of discs from a six string God amply demonstrates why Lowell George called him "the best guitarist I've ever seen." Phillips, who previously headed the Atlanta based Hampton Grease Band is nothing short of amazing, coercing a sound that is unlike any other guitarist I've heard. A technical virtuoso who understands what all truly phenomenal players know: that the best guitarists work from their hearts as well as their hands. Angel Sparks is an uninhibited instrumental romp through Hendrix onto Malmsteen by way of Beck, with Phillips steadfastly maintaining his own voice throughout. Rarely does guitar playing evoke such range of emotional response. Eleven tracks (all penned by Phillips) that simmer, sparkle, and shake with the force of a hurricane.
Guitar Party, recorded more than a decade ago, is a collaboration with avant garde guru Henry Kaiser, whose own career neatly reflects a distinction between commercial success and artistic prominence. A baker's dozen tracks by the likes of Dylan and Young, resourcefully reshaped and brilliantly performed. A bevy of vocalists (most notably Bob Weir) contribute to the proceedings, but truth be told they offer little other than mild distraction. Not up to the level of Angel Sparks but a mighty fine effort in and of itself. Someone should tell these guys that guitar discs aren't supposed to be this much fun!
James Cassara November 10, 2003
guitarists make instrumentals that are interesting to the non-guitar
aficionado. In a remarkable career of more than 30 years, Atlantan
Phillips has proved the exception.
It's been seven years since his last album, Walking Through Walls, but much remains the same. Where Phillips is concerned, that's a good thing. Without drifting into New Age-like ethereal noodling, he still wrings unusual textures and beautiful melodic figures from his strings.
While the sounds he makes are fascinating and often startlingly original, Phillips never uses his instrument solely to demonstrate his technical proficiency. His skill is above reproach but, just as importantly, so is his sense of restraint and tuneful invention.
The title cut here is a good demonstration of his alchemical abilities. It's memorable, hummable and recalls Brian Eno's mid-70's albums "Another Green World" and "Before and After Science." In other words, progressive rock in the best possible sense, without the pretentious baggage. Like Eno, Phillips conjures up otherworldly atmospheres with apparent ease. Listening to Angel Sparks is like armchair travel to a place you didn't even know existed.
Shane Harrison May 20, 2003
THE HARTFORD ADVOCATE
Southern Sparks: Wit, wisdom and hammer-wielding guitarists from below the Mason-Dixon Line
Angel Sparks / Glenn Phillips & Henry Kaiser-Guitar Party (Gaff Music)
Glenn Phillips is the greatest unknown electric guitarist in America. After 35 years of non-stop playing, he's undoubtedly sick of having that sort of label follow him around. He was also sick of chasing a record label around, which explains why he, by default, became a pioneer of D.I.Y. music when he produced his 1975 masterpiece, Lost At Sea , out of his living room and distributed it to record stores with personal letters. I was on the receiving end of one, in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the shipment of 10 he'd sent sold out as soon as I played it in my record store. No one plays guitar like Glenn Phillips. He coaxes wails, shrieks, moans, and tears the sound with pure unmitigated joy out of the frets, pedals, knobs and switches. I once saw him play his guitar with a hammer.
One-half of the Hampton Grease Band's great guitar duo (with the equally underappreciated Harold Kelling), he has produced a string of solo instrumental (absolute no singing!) albums since Lost at Sea that have expanded the possibilities of the six-stringed instrument. He's now found a home on Gaff, which has released two Phillips albums simultaneously. Angel Sparks is quintessential Glenn: 11 brilliant exercises in melody, improvisation and breathtaking dexterity. Even as he is launches into one of his patented "dive bomb" solos, he never loses the melodic thread, creating moods as easily as conveying deep-felt emotions. It helps that he's playing with longtime pals Mike Holbrook and Bill Rea, who can read each other's minds in mid-riff.
Glenn also brings the candles and cake to Guitar Party , recorded with another legendary axe-man, Henry Kaiser. Together, these two (along with guests that include Bob Weir) playfully but with awesome conviction, cover psychedelic nuggets "Cobra" (by John "Quicksilver" Cipollina), Jimi Hendrix's "If 6 was 9," and the Airplane's (by way of Fred Neil) "The Other Side of This Life," as well as two Phillips' chestnuts, "Lenore" and "The Tube." They also have fun with a couple Dylan tunes and take it up a notch for a jam built around Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" that will make your eyeballs sweat and your eardrums bleed. And you'll love it. Guaranteed.
Alan Bisbort July 2003
Glenn?! What's up, you ol' squirrelly Atlanta devil? You haven't released an album since 1996; it's good to hear from you again. I never figured you'd given up music, it's much too important to you for that - heck, you've been coaxing otherworldly solos out of your guitar since the late ''60s, when you were with psychedelic cult heroes The Hampton Grease Band. I just wondered if we'd ever be graced with a new CD.
So here's Angel Sparks, another in a long line of your inspired instrumental guitar music. All your trademarks are present, from your famous dive-bomb vibrato to your Jekyll/Hyde approach as you mesmerize us with gentle melodic passages, only to jolt us awake with blistering, blinding solos immediately after. The way you build tension in "Nightmare," the CD's centerpiece, well, let's just say there are a lot of filmmakers who could take a page or two from that book. In the liner notes you mention the songs are about death and its effect on the living. The cool thing is the tracks don't come off as depressed ruminations about dying. On the contrary, the collection's mood is buoyant and uplifting. Your flirtation with island/world music rhythms and percussion on a few tracks is a nice touch, too, as is the appearance of hammer dulcimer (a first for you). And I see from the liners you're still using your trusty, modified Gibson L6S. Sweet.
But label it or place it in a category? Nope, still can't do it, Glenn. Rock? New Age? New jazz? It's none of those, yet it's all three. How about we call it simply, "Glenn music"? Yeah, I like that. With all the rote, unimaginative playing out there, it's wonderful to have you back. Now, let's talk about a tour…
Ken Johnson July 2003
QUICK HITS: Glenn Phillips & Henry Kaiser - Guitar Party
The two guitarists dish up smokin' psychedelic '60s covers - Quicksilver, Airplane, Hendrix, Young, Byrds, etc. - and several related originals on this novel, but not novelty CD that was originally recorded in 1990.
BC September 2003
People are always asking Glenn
Phillips to categorize his music. And Phillips has his answer ready.
"The thing I receive the most of over the years is that my music doesn’t
fit into any specific genre," said the electric guitar virtuoso, who
will perform Saturday at Schroeder’s New Deli.
"For me, the thing that’s always interesting is to create a music that’s uniquely your own. Not that I’m reinventing the wheel or anything."
Fans are inclined to disagree. A native of Springfield, Mass., Phillips moved to Atlanta in the 1960s and has lived there ever since. In 1967, he helped form the Hampton Grease Band, a cutting edge, underground psychedelic rock band that toured with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
Phillips’ first solo album, Lost at Sea, was self-released in 1975. Recorded on a four-track machine in his own home, the album soon developed a cult following and — with the sponsorship of the influential BBC disc jockey John Peel and Virgin Records founder Richard Branson — not only established Phillips’ reputation overseas: it also testified to his trademark independence from the compromises of the mainstream recording industry.
"Angel Sparks," his first CD since "Walking Through Walls" in 1996, was released last month and much of Saturday’s concert will feature material from it, said Jeff Calder of the Atlanta-based Swimming Pool Q’s.
Calder has followed Phillips’ career since the mid-1970s. "I think without any exaggeration at all that he’s one of the greatest electric guitar players in the world," he said. "Unlike a lot of guitar players with Glenn’s ability and vision, I think of Glenn as a composer."
He observes that Phillips’ compositions could even fall within the realm of chamber music. "All the parts interlock rhythmically and structurally, and within that, there are improvisational flights," he said. "There’s a great deal of spontaneity in his playing." Longtime Phillips fan and deli owner John Schroeder doesn’t mince words.
"The guy is Yoda on guitar, he’s the Jedi Guitarmaster," said Schroeder. "He’s totally in command."
George de Man May 8, 2003
Glenn Phillips Times Two
Atlanta guitarist Glenn Phillips' fans have
waited seven years for a new album. So as a reward for their patience,
they get two.
Angel Sparks is the Hampton Grease Band co-founder's follow-up to 1996's Walking Through Walls. Nearly five years in the making, Phillips' 11th disc roams through his difficult-to-pigeonhole-and-market combination of instrumental rock, prog, jazz and terse New Age.
Phillips rarely plays out or tours. And at 53, he's not changing his modus operandi regardless of the difficulty he has selling this unclassifiable music. "I did it the same as all my records," he says of Sparks. "I financed and made it on my own time and criteria, because I don't want input from any label. Business wise, that's not the smartest decision, but artistically it's the only way I can stay motivated."
Angel Sparks is a melodic and emotionally charged showcase of Phillips' string-bending, vibrato-laden guitar work, layered over a sparse, sometimes somber background. With songs inspired by death and reflection, it's his most stirring work.
Those thrilled by squalling six-string fireworks are better served by Guitar Party. The joint project was recorded with similarly twisted and talented guitarist Henry Kaiser during a productive week in 1990. This ragtag but enthusiastic studio jam is dominated by '60s cover tunes, making for a wild-eyed companion to the more pensive Angel Sparks.
Hal Horowitz May 14, 2003
STOMP and STAMMER
Glenn Phillips expresses his feelings on life and mortality in his own unique non-vocal way on Angel Sparks,
album number 11 for the Atlanta guitar virtuoso and his first in seven
years. Inspired by the recent loss of his mother, his father's suicide,
the sudden death of a musician friend, and others around him who have
been affected and changed by the passing away of loved ones, the album
stands as one of Phillips' most satisfying and moving achievements. Angel Sparks,
especially the tremendous six-minute "Nightmare," finds Phillips
ripping holes in the clouds, his soaring precise vibrato fretboard leads
caterwauling all over the damn place, daring you to catch up.
If you really wanna hear Glenn Phillips tear it up, get a copy of Guitar Party, his collaboration with California guitar explorer Henry Kaiser that's being released on CD for the first time. Recorded in 1990, the material mostly consists of '60s covers (their version of "If 6 was 9," with Bob Weir on vocals, showed up on an obscure Hendrix tribute album in the early 90s), plus remakes of three older compositions by Phillips.
Jeff Clark May 2003
METROLAND (New York)
Glenn Phillips seemed at one time poised for large-scale success. Starting in the mid-’70s, the Atlanta-based guitarist toured regularly, offering up exuberant performances at every stop along the way. He released albums through his own small label, a handful of U.S. indies, and was also picked up overseas by the more formidable Virgin label. But such are the difficulties of instrumental music that radio play, even on college stations, never brought him any more than a devoted cult following.
Angel Sparks is his first new release in seven years. The 11 originals all utilize Phillips’ guitar as the center-stage voice. The setting is, for the most part, that of a rock band—but it’s not a typical fit. Rock instrumentals most often bring to mind Duane Eddy, the Ventures and their progeny, or such novelties as the muscle-bound cartoon of Edgar Winter’s "Frankenstein." Phillips has a tone that links him to a guitarist like ECM’s Terje Rypdal, but he’s not a jazz player. He clearly loves verse-and-chorus songs, but just doesn’t need the words, and has rendered them superfluous. In his writing, Phillips presents long melodic lines (as opposed to simpler riffs), making him a songwriter of the first order. This is emotionally charged music. While fairly direct, it’s full of the mysterious powers of melody and sound. A piece like "Talking to Spirits" is at once haunting, celebratory and prayerful. It’s heartfelt, but it’s also got guts. It’s soulful and subtle, and it fearlessly breaks open to reveal the pulsing heart within. Phillips continues to make quiet and loud lie down together for glorious results.
David Greenberger September 10 2003
After the Hampton Grease Band, the extremely psychedelic rock band he co-founded (a band that toured with Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention), disbanded in 1973, Glenn Phillips embarked on a solo career that has resulted in 10 albums including a live recording and a double album compilation.
On 2003's Angel Sparks, his first studio work wince 1996's Walking Through Walls, Phillips gives listeners a heavy dose of what his small but dedicated fan base expects, something few rock guitarists or musicians even begin to comprehend - music with astounding passion and complexity played at a technical skill level that defies being called mere songs.
Critics constantly compare Phillips to the masters - Hendrix, Beck, Knopfler, Dimeola, McLaughlin - but Phillips remains a fiercely independent soul who steadfastly rejects any notion of popular music trends.
He is a composer and an uncompromising perfectionist who will unflinchingly spend several years recording and mixing a single album.
He's a prodigy who can finger the most blisteringly rapid runs you'll ever hear and then just as quickly shut it down to something melodic and subtle.
He's a techno-freak who, in striving to play the music he hears in his head, strips guitars down and rebuilds them from the ground up searching for, and finding, the unique sound that sets him apart from the masses.
Phillips is the kind of guy that you can easily imagine always having a guitar in his hands or very close by. He is quite probably as comfortable, if not more so, with a guitar than any player I've ever heard.
Angel Sparks is an album of instrumental rock music. It features a full band of talented performers, but is very much centered around Phillips' incredible guitar playing.
While Angel Sparks has an overall ethereal quality that defies easy description, Phillips is very grounded and avoids the pseudo-intellectual trappings and mundanity of 'world music.'
No folks, this is rock and roll - it's just played by someone who is smarter and more dedicated to his instrument than the average picker.
Henry Kaiser is best known as a San Francisco Bay-area experimental/improvisational guitarist who works both the rock and jazz genres with equal aplomb.
You just read about Glenn Phillips.
In 1989, Kaiser invited Phillips to California to participate in recording the title track, "If 6 Was 9," for a Jimi Hendrix tribute. The song featured both Phillips and Kaiser. After arriving in San Fran in January 1990, Phillips played a show at the Great American Music Hall with Kaiser and some of his friends. After that the Hendrix track was recorded and what ensued was a free spirited jam session that resulted in Guitar Party.
According to Phillips, the song selection was "a slapdash, haphazard mix, most of which are covers of artists rooted in the ''60s." Guitar Party's track list covers songs by Bob Dylan, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Tim Buckley and The Byrds. It even includes a take on the obscure "Pacific Ocean Blues" by Dennis Wilson, The Beach Boys' rhythm guitarist.
For you lyrics freaks who may shy away from instrumental recordings like Phillips' afore-reviewed Angel Sparks, but still want to enjoy some headspinning rock guitar, Guitar Party is just the CD you're looking for. The playing is world class, 8 of 13 tracks have vocals and the eclectic, but very cool, song selection makes the CD very accessible to anyone who is less than a guitaraholic.
Highlight tracks include:
"Cobra" - although this was originally done by Quicksilver, this instrumental version will forever alter the way you listen to surf music.
"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" - wonderfully sung by Susan James (her scatty trills are spine-tingling) this version will forever alter the way you listen to Bob Dylan (Bob's had a lot of guitarists, but never one like Kaiser or Phillips.)
"The Tube" is one of Glenn's compositions off one of his solo efforts. Also an instrumental, it fits nicely with the surf sound of "Cobra."
"If 6 Was 9 / Guitar Party" - the vocals to the Hendrix part of this extended jam are by The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir.
"I'm Not Cryin" - another Phillips original that's just great, fun rock and roll.
"The Other Side Of This Life" 0 Fred Neil's tune that was originally recorded by the Airplane. Sung here by Gary Lambert, Greg Gumbel and Cary Sheldon, this is a prefect '60s folk rock raver.
"Won't You Please Crawl Out Your Window" - the CD's other Dylan track, albeit an obscure one. How can you not love a great song played by exceptional musicians. Lambert's vocal interpretation is dead on.
There's also a hidden track, an unusual reprise of "Tom Thumb's Blues," about 5 minutes into the last cut. I'll let it be a surprise.
As often happens, this CD took some getting familiar with, but the more I listen to Guitar Party the more I love it. If you play guitar or ever had a lesson or even just wanted to learn, you need this CD. In a word, it's incredible. And well worth every day of the 13 year wait.
Buy 'em both: gaffmusic.com or glennphillips.com. Keep on rockin' - Glenn is….
Matthew J. Permar December 15 2003
From Guitar Hero to Artist: Glenn Phillips
The promotional material that swells the press kit for Glenn Phillips abounds with reviews that yield bullet-friendly blurbal bits along the lines of "amazing guitarist," "awesome-guitarist," "killer-guitarist," etc.—all those phrases that suggest a manic producer of impossibly fast riffs that shred the mind and astound the ears. And to be sure, ever since his legendary early outings with Atlanta’s Hampton Grease Band, Glenn Phillips has continued to deliver the goods in much that way. His prolific solo output beginning in the mid-1970s has spread his reputation throughout music circles as a real musician’s musician. He has inspired the kinds of comments whereby musicians express admiration through claims that they feel daunted and hesitant to dare to wield the same axe as such a master. Peter Buck was quoted years ago as saying that Phillips was the reason he (Buck) eschewed solos. Most often, accolades from admiring fellow musicians emphasize the explosive power and stunning pyrotechnics displayed in Phillips’s playing.
But as folks get older, they are supposed to acquire a greater degree of calm and reflection. Glenn Phillips has done that, and has delivered a new solo album that you need to absorb the way you slowly read a book of poems by an intelligent poet. Phillips has shown over a long and impressive solo career that he can play just about anything he wants on the guitar. Some of his earlier solo work veered into jazz fusion, perhaps not all that much a stretch considering his Zappa-esque tradeoffs with Harold Kelling, the Hampton Grease Band’s other lead guitarist. In addition, he had more than demonstrated his monster rock guitar prowess, especially through his collaborations with the talented Henry Kaiser. Simultaneous with the release of his new album Angel Sparks, Phillips and Kaiser offer Guitar Party, a generous helping of vintage cover versions (plus three Glenn Phillips compositions) recorded some years ago that is just plain fun. I’ll have more to say about that record below (both are available from Gaff Music of Lincolnton, North Carolina—www.gaffmusic.com), after an attempt to come to terms with Angel Sparks.
It seems to be that the best art emerges through a kind of exquisite tension to achieve a level of purity of expression that serves to remind you of equivalent accomplishments in other artistic domains or genres. On Angel Sparks, Glenn Phillips doesn’t so much play music as sculpt the space of the recording with carefully chosen touches. Something has been transformed, altering the space surrounding it like the Tennessee landscape in "Anecdote of the Jar" by Wallace Stevens. You begin to get this sensation from the very first track, "Floaters." With each subsequent number, you are plunged into one mood after another, a function not only of the musicianship but also of the fine self-production by Phillips with assistance from Katie Oehler. This is an album of considerable emotional range and timbre, so that one is not surprised to learn that the songs grew out of Phillips’s experience of coming to terms with the recent death of his mother. Just as profound grief takes the bereaved through myriad emotional and mental states, Angel Sparks presents a strikingly varied palette of affective shading and nuance.
The choice of song titles is particularly apt. The shimmering tones of the title track do it justice, and in "Nightmare" the brooding melody writhes like tendrils invading some dark chamber. Here, Phillips adds a haunting piano figure to his always-arresting guitar probings. Other instruments have their contributions to make as needed for the specific atmosphere to be created. For example, Bill Rea’s fretless bass is perfect for the architecture of "Talking Spirits." On other occasions, the fretted bass of Mike Holbrook, another stalwart Hampton alumnus, is exactly what’s required. The tasteful production puts it all together, and by the time you make your way to the final track, a reprise of "Floaters," you have the sensation of having been carried through a complex series of sonic environments that nevertheless cohere as a tightly-constructed song cycle.
Lest the overall tone of Angel Sparks appear too somber, Glenn Phillips fans can shift moods by turning to the comfortable, shambling let-your-hair-down mood of Guitar Party. The "Guitar Party Band" is a quartet featuring Henry Kaiser and Glenn Phillips on guitars, augmented by guest vocalists including—on "If 6 Was 9"—Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. Speaking of the Dead, the first collaboration between Kaiser and Phillips took place on "Dark Star," centerpiece of Kaiser’s 1988 album Those Who Know History are Doomed to Repeat It. Recorded all the way back in 1990, Guitar Party covers tunes associated with Bay Area groups like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane and includes covers of Dylan’s "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues" and "Please Crawl Out Your Window," as well as Neil Young’s "Cortez the Killer" and the classic "Sally Go ‘Round the Roses" by the Jaynettes. The three selections composed by Glenn Phillips are gorgeous, with some of his best playing I have ever heard, significantly different in mood from the much more recent Angel Sparks. And as I’ve said, the atmosphere on Guitar Party is as its title suggests, much like friends kicking back in the garage or basement. Then a real jolt comes with a buried track that consists of an alternate version of "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues" sung (by Kaiser?) in an impeccable imitation of the voice of Walter Brennan as if from an episode of The Real McCoys, complete with Brennanesque epithets like "danged" and "tarnation." This may have justified a warning label, since you might never be able to hear this Dylan classic again once you’ve been exposed to this version.
Taken together, these two records demonstrate clearly Glenn Phillips’s versatility and artistic range. He is someone whose musical mastery provides a foundation for ongoing exploration and innovation. Still based in Atlanta, Glenn Phillips appears frequently with his band The Supreme Court, which includes Jeff Calder of The Swimming Pool Q’s on bass. Like the music Phillips records, his live performances are unfailingly fresh and interesting. Go out to hear him when you have the opportunity.
Jim Winders January 2004
REVOLVING DOOR MUSIC GUIDE
GLENN PHILLIPS - Angel Sparks (Gaff Music)
virtuoso Glenn Phillips has been exploring uncharted musical frontiers
since 1967 when he co-founded the Hampton Grease Band. The Atlanta
psychedelic rock group, which featured Bruce Hampton on vocals and
bizarre stage antics, resided on the outer fringes of an extremely wild
and experimental musical era, and this gifted guitarist has been pushing
into unfamiliar musical horizons ever since.
Phillips has released a dozen instrumental recordings during the past thirty years and his musical imagination and wizardry with his instrument have made him a legend among guitar aficionados. This latest disc fuses elements of rock, jazz, progressive rock and New Age into brilliant collages of instrumental textures and melodic figures that showcase his extraordinary string-bending talents.
Majestic axe riffs cut like a knife through the stark surroundings on "Floaters," and an air of familiarity is channeled into the atmospheric passages of "I’ll Be Home." Phillips utilizes a full band to give depth to the rocking progressions during "Over the Moon," while cellos and dulcimer create a pastoral setting on "For Carole." The guitarist unleashes some gut-wrenching runs during "Talking to Spirits" and "Angel Sparks," but the chilling leads he extracts on "Nightmare" are the high point of this disc.
Guitar-oriented instrumental music is not for everyone and these recordings usually have a very limited appeal to the general public. I find myself rarely getting interested in this kind of stuff, but Glenn Phillips has an uncanny touch for creating expressive guitar compositions that really envelops the uninitiated.
HENRY KAISER & GLENN PHILLIPS - Guitar Party (Gaff Music)
If you are interested in
discovering what Phillips can do with his axe in a rock format, this
album is a great place to start. This 1990 collaboration with fellow
guitar great Henry Kaiser resulted in some of the most incendiary
fretwork ever unleashed in a San Francisco recording studio. A heavy Bay
area vibe ripples through this collection of songs and psychedelic
guitar jams have seldom sounded this lysergic.
The guitarists unleash a ferocious fusillade on the Quicksilver Messenger Service’s "Cobra" that tears apart the instrumental classic and leaves the remains scattered across the cosmic wasteland. The band tackles three of Phillips’ instrumental compositions and the most explosive moments occur during "The Tube" as the two guitar players exchange mind-bending solos back-and-forth.
The rest of the music features guest vocalists and there are some outrageous renditions of these well-known songs. Phillips provides a series of stunning leads during the first half of Neil Young’s "Cortez The Killer" and then Kaiser appears and blows away the remaining fragments with a torment of riffs. The duo guitar assault continues on a funky rendition of the Beach Boys "Pacific Ocean Blues," and the soaring psychedelic runs blast off into the stratosphere during "The Other Side of This Life." Phillips’ closing solo on this tune is as sick as any outro I have ever heard.
The Dead’s Bob Weir takes over the vocals and adds rhythm guitar during a fantastic cover of Jimi Hendrix’s "If 6 Was 9" and the free-floating jam tune "Guitar Party." Other highlights are Danny Carnahan’s and Robin Petrie’s singing on a straight-ahead take of "Sally Go Round the Roses," and Susan James casts some vocal magic over Dylan’s "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues" as Kaiser and Phillips dispense some glorious instrumental enhancement.
Guitar Party is being released on CD for the first time and it is a classic example of the majestic properties of the psychedelic San Francisco sound, and I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in either guitar rock or the acid rock sound.
Stu Fox, Spring/Summer 2004
GREEN MAN REVIEW
Glenn Phillips has accomplished some mighty difficult things. He put together Angel Sparks as a tribute to Death's impacts on him and his acquaintances, but not once does it fall apart into maudlin sentimentalism. It's one of those instrumental compilations with a variety that will keep it fresh after years of listening. And he's gathered a great crew into a project where everyone gave 150% of their formidable talents.
Glenn himself plays guitars, keyboards, autoharp, bass and tambourine. He's joined by Mike Holbrook (fretted bass), Bill Rea (fretless bass), John Boissierre (drums), Matt Cowley (congas, tambourine), David Marcus (hammered dulcimer) and John Carr Harriman (cellos).
Song titles aptly reflect the fact that this is a requiem, like "Floaters," "Talking to Spirits," "Skeletons in the Closet," and "Give Up the Ghost." Musically, the group derives much of its illumination from latter-period King Crimson, with a good mix of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, Mike Oldfield and Roger Waters. If you do not like those guitarists, you will not like this CD.
Having said that, the compositions and arrangements are quite original and draw on the genres started by those artists, rather than simply imitating them. And while I'm on the topic of traditions, all of you world musician types out there who are looking for modern purveyors of the Acid Rock sound need look no further than Glenn Phillips for inspiration and guidance.
The liner notes for Angel Sparks are fairly extensive and well written. They chronicle the experiences with death and dying that motivated the project and thereby personalize the presentation. The background information about each of the songs pulls the material together within the context of Glenn's varied musical career. The overall impact of the project is to thoughtfully memorialize those who have crossed through the veil.
Mike Stiles June 2004