Phil Smith & The Lights – Start Counting!

Read our review of Phil Smith’s new album ‘1,2,3,4…’

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Phil Smith & The Lights

Rollicking New Release ‘1,2,3,4…’


Brisbane Australia’s Phil Smith last released Year Of The Dog (2014), which was a brutally honest recounting of some tough personal times.  It was a serious and resonating singer-songwriter collection which contained many gems.  Read the full story.

How do you follow-up such a successful, stripped-back venture?

Well, here is the answer, come out with something completely different.

For his new release 1,2,3,4… (expected launch date June 2016), Smith is about to turn heads in a different way.  This time around, Smith has enlisted a full band to flesh out another great array of songs, recording them so quickly that they smell as fresh as newly-mown hay.

phil smith 1,2,3,4The end sound is similar to classic Bob Dylan, The Band or Neil Young with Crazy Horse, a beautifully ‘loose’ vibe that is foot-tapping and brain-engaging.  ‘Straight & Narrow’ is the opener which comprises an underlying alt. country groove, strong chorus and exact harmonies.  ‘Mountain Sound’ has an off-centre quiver with a short but manic lead guitar piece, sounding like everyone was having much fun during its creation.  ‘I Don’t Know What To Believe’ has a funky backbeat and a talking, rambling narrative, sounding like it had been lifted off Dylan and The Band’s The Basement Tapes – listen and submit to its allure.  ‘Ruby’s Song’ changes the mood, a bluesy urban story full of colourful characters and searching for answers – a headland achievement.

There is a lot to digest in ‘Living In Sin’ as it starts slowly and builds into a lively ensemble piece:

Had a little pony called matrimony

Used to ride her into town everyday

But the girls at the bar

Became too hard to resist

So I threw it all away

Now I am living in sin

Happy just to be that way

Now I am living in sin

Baby won’t you go my way

‘Blue Hotel’ is another highlight, a classic-sounding Southern rock song, with a beautiful chord progression, while ‘Drop Dead Suzie’ is a seven-minute street tale epic, brimming with lyrical insights and the band in fine form.

1,2,3,4… is a fitting follow-up to Year Of The Dog and marks another mature and captivating release from Phil Smith.  He is one of the most talented Australian artists going around.

As to the recording of 1,2,3,4…, here is the story in Phil’s own words:

The session was super short. Four days out at Plainland, west of Ipswich (on the road out to Toowoomba). Guy out there’s got a nice studio set up in an old dairy barn, with an adjoining cottage.

We went out early Thursday, spent the day getting set up and pulling sounds, sorting out who was standing where etc. We spent eight hours running through the songs on Friday. We got one song down which didn’t make it onto the album – a nine minute minor blues a la Time Out Of Mind-era Bob Dylan (it’ll pop up somewhere).

So we were under the pump Saturday. We managed three songs by early arvo, at which point I lost my voice. Spent a few hours going through what we had and what we didn’t have, broke for dinner.  We went back in at 8:30 and smashed out ‘Mountain Sound’ and ‘Restless & Sad’ back to back. That was a lot of fun. So five songs down, five to go.

Sunday rolled pretty easily, we got the album done by 2:30pm. ‘Living In Sin’ was the first take, and the closing track on the album ‘I Won’t Be Back This Way’, that was the first time we’d ever played it through. I was still writing it really, as we were recording it. I just asked the guys to follow me. What you’re hearing is the first take ever of that song. That was the highlight for me. We overdubbed the male backing vocals the following weekend, plus the tambo, then did the female bv’s back in Brisbane. Mixed in four days.

I’d been playing at a bar in Sth Brisbane called Padre, through most of 2015. It was here that everything changed for me. I was doing a lot of Stones/ Dylan/ Springsteen/ Van Morrison songs, just solo acoustic. Most of these songs took me right out of my comfort zone and I learnt to sing with way more balls than I’d been able to before.

Then Nick Milnes, the guitarist on the album, started playing with me, through an old Fender Champ. The sound was so killer in the bar, and it was so much fun playing with him that we decided we’d get together and have a look at some stuff I was writing. Just bits and pieces. I had a couple of songs from an album I’d recorded live with a band in the middle of Year Of The Dog plus some lyrics. After four sessions I’d written twelve tracks all up. Nick came up with the initial progression for ‘Blue Hotel ‘but I did the rest. It definitely wouldn’t have happened without him though, we just bounced off each other in the right way.

What drove this album was the observation that musicians tend to play their best stuff (in my opinion) when they’re first hearing the song. They’re reacting without thinking too much. I’ve spent countless hours with players trying to get them to remember some lick they’d played first time we ran through a song. It never comes out the same. So we thought, why not get everyone demos, have a quick rehearsal to make sure everyone’s on the same page, but really learn the songs in the studio – while the record button is on. If we’re lucky, we’ll catch some of that chemistry. Which is what happened.

So the move from solo to band was really about music becoming fun again, and the recording method was about bringing a bit of the risk back to the studio, because the payoffs were potentially great if we got it right.

There’s so much music out there that sounds safe now. We just wanted to have a crack at making something that sounded like the guys we admired so much.

So, the band…

Nick Milnes was on the electric. I used to work with his girl friend, and he has his own band up here which he fronts. Morgan Hann, he’s a music teacher up here. He used to play for a band called Grand Atlantic, and he’s played piano for me for gigs over the last few years. He also does his own stuff, and plays for a band called Suicide Swans up here as well.

Scott Mullane; drums. He mixed my first two albums, but he also played in Grand Atlantic with Morgs. I’ve known him since 2008 but never played with him. He approached us 3 1/2 weeks out from the recording date and asked if we still needed a drummer. Which we did. Nick Rodwell, bass. He plays bass for Nick Milnes’ band, and came on board super late too. He’s such a laidback character I thought he’d never get it together but he did.

Chris Hartley, Hammond. I’d seen him play at a gig up in Toowoomba early 2015, for a band of a friend’s dad. They did a rendition of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, and he absolutely killed it. We met him on the Saturday of the recording, and got him back for the Sunday. Dude can play. He’s one of those guys that rocks up in a pair of stubbies and an old t shirt and just proceeds to blow everyone away with his musicianship.


Read our review of Phil Smith’s new album ‘1,2,3,4…’












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Author: Rob Dickens

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