Arkansas Street Records
13 songs – 53 minutes
San Francisco singer/guitarist Bill Phillippe offers up an outstanding serving of traditional country blues in this tastefully conceived CD, which fluidly reinterprets songs in the public domain and mixes them with first-generation blues hits as well as a few originals to produce one cohesive musical package.
Phillippe settled in the Bay area about 20 years ago after a long stint in Chicago and achieved regional popularity with a band that played New Orleans-style funk. His overwhelming interest in early artists – including Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson and others — brought about a career change. About, ten years ago, he abandoned the band setting, embarking work as a solo acoustic artist, and he hasn’t looked back.
Phillippe borrows heavily from the repertoire of his personal favorite, Blind Willie Johnson, for much of this disc, but delivers all of the tunes here in his own guitar stylings and with an attack that makes each tune his own.
First up is a new take on the Robert Johnson classic, “Come On In My Kitchen.” Phillippe’s pace is deliberate and unforced as he urges his lady inside on a rainy day. His vocal delivery is strong, slightly nasally and maintains the feel of his elders. Three original tunes follow. “Father’s Lament” is a sweet song of comfort delivered from the end point of a dad’s life. “Wedded Heart” and “Broken Cup” are a pair of love songs softly delivered from different perspectives.
The singer follows with a haunting version of Blind Willie’s 1928 classic, “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning,” before two more originals — “Tightrope,” a pensive look at romance, and “Big Bill’s Dream,” a reverie about freedom delivered through the eyes of bluesman and freedom fighter Big Bill Broonzy.
Most of the remaining numbers on Ghost rely or refer to Johnson’s catalog. A version of “Motherless Children,” first recorded in 1927, precedes the Phillippe-penned “The Ballad Of Blind Willie” before versions of two more Johnson tunes, “God Don’t Never Change” and “In My Time Of Dying,” which proved to be a hit for Led Zeppelin. Reinterpretations of Son House’s “Death Letter” and Blind Willie’s 1933 recording, “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond,” conclude the set.
Respectful to the original artists but original throughout, Ghosts should appeal to anyone who loves acoustic blues. Phillippe’s delivery is always respectful to the medium and never forced, his music powerful in its subtlety. Available through CDBaby.