Going into any review is an interesting prospect and a swathe of questions raise their heads as the music starts. What will I find within, how will the music effect me, how will I convey what I feel about to the reader and more importantly, how much can I sell this for on Discogs after I’ve finished writing? Ignore that last one, just joking…no-one sends in physical form any more! Damn this modern age! But all that aside you go into a Phil Cooper album review knowing that there is a bit of a safety net, one born of a fine musical track record, some fantastic live shows and a back catalogue of quality songs which gets right inside my wheelhouse.
And Thoughts and Observations is a perfect title for the album, and indeed what Phil does in general, as his songs are generally socially aware, personal but relatable, the musings, thoughts and experiences of a guy living a life just like the rest of us, only with more of a penchant for hats than most. But hats are cool.
I have been lucky enough to see Phil play many times and although it has generally been as a solo player, what a studio album allows him to do is dress the songs slightly, and I mean slightly as he is astute enough to understand that his songs are the type that stand very much on their own two feet. That the solo version is the beating heart of the recorded version and heart is important. Road Songs is a perfect example of this, a gentle beat, strings hovering around the periphery, subtle harmonies and the song front and centre. A sonic frame and nothing more. That’s how its done, wannabe troubadours take note, if you need more gimmickry than substance to make the song presentable to the audience, bin the bugger! Fear Factory sees things rock up, get brassy and throw a heavy groove for a Van-tastic delivery, Looking Through The Blindfold is a shimmering slice of soulful and soul-searching acoustica and Shake it up struts with a folky-R&B swagger.
Thoughts and Observations is the sound of a bunch of great songs being put on a pedestal, it is also everything you expect from Phil Cooper, subtle and supple songs that sit equidistant between cult favourites and easy commerciality. If this album had come out in the year 2000 nobody would have even heard of David Gray!
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