Soul, R&B, And The Heart Of A Poet
By Mike Marrone
I thought it would be hard to decide which artist to spotlight in my first BusinessWeek column. But all I had to do was turn to my home stereo, where I've been playing Phil Roy's new CD The Great Longing virtually nonstop for a month.
Roy has been toiling in relative obscurity for quite some time, writing songs bursting with passion, skill, and, most of all, soul. Quite possibly you've heard his music and didn't know it. He composed the title track for Ray Charles's 1993 album My World and has written songs recorded by Pops and Mavis Staples, Joe Cocker, Aaron Neville, and cult favorite L.A. Guns, among many others.
Drawing on his roots in Philly Sound soul and a devotion to the music of artists such as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, Roy unites R&B, straight-up soul, and a hint of jazz with the more confessional approach of a Jackson Browne or Elliott Smith. You can hear this clearly on the new album's track Day To Day Thing, which starts with a muted, jazzy trumpet and percolates with a rhythmic bottom that falls somewhere between hip hop, jazz, and funky soul. The Neville Brothers first recorded the song in 1992, but Phil has reclaimed it and changed a few of his original lyrics to reflect his frame of mind today: "I read the obituaries and I don't see my name, I thank the Lord I'm living and see what tomorrow will bring. It's a day-to-day thing." It may seem a bit bleak, but the song swings with optimism.
Over two years in the making, The Great Longing does not contain a single note out of place. Tracks like the funky New Orleans flavored Exceptionally Ordinary (a duet with acclaimed vocalist Madeleine Peyroux), introspective Without Conscience, and irresistible Busy Thinkin' Bout Today (with Philadelphia neighbor Amos Lee) radiate a tube amp analog warmth in our increasingly cold digital world. Point your Web browser to philroy.com and order an advance copy. Although he doesn't have a label yet for this album, Phil Roy can still put one out, and if you ask when you order it, he'll even sign a copy for you.
Mike Marrone is program director of XM Satellite Radio's The Loft, a channel that focuses on an eclectic mix of singer-songwriters from the 1970s through the present