25 January 2013

25 Jan - John Phillips' John, the Wolfking of L.A.

Artist – Album: John Phillips – John, the Wolf King of L.A.
Released: 25th January 1970
Sounds Like: John, the riverboat king of the Mississippi

John Phillips found fame as the chief songwriter and arranger for The Mamas and The Papas, who scored a string of worldwide smashes such as ‘California Dreaming’ and ‘Monday Monday’; sunny, multi-harmonied pop songs that were perfect for the swinging sixties. Following that group’s demise, Phillips went in to the studio alone to craft John, the Wolfking of L.A.

The result was a surprise for any flower people looking to relive those hippy heydays; instead of the many layers of chiming voices of the past, Phillips’ was hushed, smothered in production. Instead of the sunshine melodies of California, these were folk tunes with their roots based in the Deep South.

These wonderful songs were built around Phillips’ acoustic guitar, but steel guitar, harmonica and fiddle all made regular, uplifting contributions. He lacked confidence in his vocal talents (they’re fine by the way), and so he intelligently kept them simple, being ably backed by a choir of sirens for the livelier moments. The themes of the album cover the important things that were happening in his life at the time, but the frequent references to American hotspots, from Malibu to Mississippi, make it feel like a bunch of postcards from a road-tripping friend.

There was a few good albums also released on this day – Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and Destroyer’s Kaputt are both worthy efforts – but I had to cover this record. I think it’s a great cohesive album and a lot of fun, and it’s criminally underrated. Actually, scratch that, it doesn’t even count as underrated: in the very few reviews of it I have seen it was highly commended and it’s apparently very popular with fans; it’s more that it’s mostly forgotten or ignored by the wider public. Ex-Mamas bandmate Denny Doherty once said that this album would have been their best had the group been able to record it. He may be right, but I like it how it is.

Albumaday... rating: 7/10

1.       April Anne – 3:22
2.       Topanga Canyon – 3:53
3.       Malibu People – 3:41
4.       Someone’s Sleeping – 2:46
5.       Drum – 3:36
6.       Captain – 3:25
7.       Let It Bleed, Genevieve – 2:53
8.       Down the Beach – 2:52
9.       Mississippi – 3:36
10.   Holland Tunnel – 3:41

Listen to ‘Mississippi’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS_sLUVuKTs

Also released on the 25th January:
2005: Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
Also released on the 25th January:
2011: Destroyer - Kaputt

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