Phil Naro is a prolific and diverse songwriter with a powerful set of pipes, and is continually finding new avenues for his creativity to expand.
Label: Music Theories / Melodic Revolution Records
Time: 2 tracks / 9:00 minutes
Artist: The Phil and John Show (Phil Naro & John Rogers)
Label: Music Theories / Melodic Revolution Records
Time: 17 tracks / 71:00 minutes
A month or two ago (maybe three, which means this writeup is long overdue), I received a care package of sorts, courtesy of Phil Naro (Druckfarben, Backhand, KINGs, DDrive, The Phil and John Show). Phil is truly a product of the 1980s, a musical decade during which he spent developing as a singer and a songwriter, lending his abilities to a number of bands as well as composing solo material. He is an undeniably prolific and diverse songwriter with a powerful set of pipes, and is continually finding new avenues for his creativity to expand.
His package contained two CDs – drops in the bucket of his extensive musical career, certainly – but material that reflects his current labors. The first disc was a 2-song EP from a new band in which Phil has been a part, an act called KINGs. The second was a cover album, appropriately entitled Cover Art.
We’ll pretend this review is a double album and I’ll start with disc one first – the EP. Let me just drop the needle, and here we go.
Released July 15th, this eponymous sampler is the first official publication from KINGS – a band consisting of Phil at lead vocals, Joe Macre (bass & vocals), Michael Fath (guitars & vocals), Vinnie DePaul (keyboards & vocals), and Corey Holland (drums). Not to be confused with The Kings (a Vancouver rock band of the 70‘s), KINGs’ material is equal parts rock, blues, and jam. They bring the grit and the cheese with their original material, creating a big and powerful sound that would seem perfectly at home on classic rock radio. The EP was recorded across all band members’ studios, and everyone had a hand in the mixing process, though the final mastering was done by Macre himself. Though brief, the EP’s pair of tracks are representative of the band’s work as a whole: singable, anthemic material with a classic feel and a modern presentation.
The first track, “Glass Mountain,” is a composition by Phil Naro and Johnny Angel, and prominently highlights Phil’s vocal ability. After the extended acoustic guitar introduction and first verse, the band explodes into a gritty rock groove, measured steadily by Corey Holland’s 80‘s rock drumming. Michael Fath’s sloppy guitar solo punctuates the track, and the final, bass-and-guitar-driven choruses maintain the boisterous momentum through to the song’s conclusion.
The second track, “Black and Blue,” is down-tempo and features a pair of Michael Fath guitar solos – a full entry after the bridge and a shorter offering at the track’s fading outro. Written by Phil and Mladen Alexander, this latter piece is bluesy and dense, drawing certain similarities to Billy Idol and Aerosmith and further channeling a classic rock vibe.
As an up-and-coming act, KINGs show definite promise. Their music is formulaic and therefore somewhat predictable, but it is a satisfying, windows-rolled-down kind of rock -- something like an infusion of AC/DC and Bon Jovi, crossed with the KINGs’ personalized instrumentation and Phil’s strong vocal presence. This brief sampling might not be quite enough to generate a rounded opinion of their work, but it is indicative of what the musicians involved are capable of producing. I trust that a full-length debut is slotted for a late-2015 release.
Disc number two.
This latter release is unique for a couple of reasons. First, it is nearly a decade old, having been initially released back in 2006, and much more recently published digitally via Phil’s bandcamp page. Second, joining Phil is guitarist/vocalist John Rogers (Brighton Rock, Long Tom & the Dusty Danglers). Together, they form the musical duo “The Phil and John Show,” a pop/rock/folk acoustic guitar act which currently holds two steady venues in Ontario – Shore Grill & Grotto in Mississauga every Tuesday night, and Molly Blooms Irish Pub in Waterloo on Wednesdays. Phil and John’s long-standing relationships with a significant number of bars in Canada speaks to the quality of their performances as well as the longevity of their work together.
In sum, Cover Art is a lighthearted collection of popular songs, translated for a pair of acoustic guitars and a pair of voices (though the Phil and John show have often done the opposite of most bands, opting for “plugged-in” shows on numerous occasions). In musical styles and personalities, John and Phil strongly complement one another. Their joint contributions render these time-honored songs as new stories – re-tellings with all the original sentiment preserved, but infused with new vitality and new exploration. Not simply covers, Phil and John’s renditions of these songs have appropriately transformed them, giving them new heart and personalized meaning. The duo’s impressive repertoire, a list of well over 120 songs, includes classics by CCR, Aerosmith, Don Henley, U2, Bowie, The Beatles, and more, as well as a quantitative handful of releases from more contemporary artists (e.g. Adele, Incubus, Oasis, Foo Fighters). Also included on Cover Art are two original songs – “One More Try,” a weary tune of John’s, a refusal to give up on a relationship that is falling apart; and Phil’s emotive piece, “The Best People You Will Ever Know.” Some unquestionable highlights for me are Phil and John’s bluesy rendition of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” their folky take on Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and the memorable Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” My favorite piece, however, is a medley of songs by YES, carefully stitched together into a folky re-telling that clocks in just under 9:00 minutes.
This is a polished, carefully chosen collection, and is an accurate representation of their live performance. Not just another pair of musicians with some favorite tunes to sing, Phil and John have taken songs that have undeniably meant something to them personally, and have attempted to communicate that depth with their audience. Beautiful, intentional, and extremely fun, Cover Art is a portfolio of some of the best music of previous generations – arguably better performed here than anywhere else in recent memory.
I do owe Phil an apology for the length of time it took me to write and publish this writeup. Knowing him, however, he’ll have something new for me to work on next week, so I’ll make it up to him then.