I'm devoting much of this week's column to a noteworthy release of 35-year-old material. It's worth it.
John Phillips, Jack of Diamonds
"Papa" John Phillips (RIP) was best known for his work with The Mamas and the Papas, but his creativity went well beyond that. Last year, Varese Sarabande re-released Phillip's only solo album, 1970's John, the Wolfking of L.A. Now comes the second in their "Papa John Phillips Presents" series.
Jack of Diamonds collects songs he wrote for a second solo LP which never saw the light of day (although the songs "Revolution on Vacation" and "Cup of Tea," included in different versions here, were released as a single in 1972).
Phillips's writing and arranging typically combined soulful sophistication with the anything-is-possible musical ethos of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was always an element of wistful disillusion (and emotional dissolution) in his music, and I'd argue that it's that sad tinge that made the beautiful choral songs of The Mamas and the Papas into the timeless classics they've become. But Phillips's work outside the confines of the band extended into much more varied musical territory.
"Revolution on Vacation" and "Cup of Tea" lean towards the country-western sound of Wolfking, and the easygoing groove of "Campy California" feels like a lazy sunny day. But "Devil's on the Loose," "Mister Blue," and "Black Broadway" feel much more like the urban soul of the time, with smoky sax, wah-wah guitar, and groovy electric piano. (Heavy hitters like Joe Sample and Van Dyke Parks contributed.) In fact, Phillip's vocals on the latter two songs betray a heavy Lou Reed influence. The three songs contrast startlingly with what one might expect from the composer of "California Dreamin'" and "Kokomo." We're clearly on the gritty streets of New York City. Even "Marooned," a sad song set on the beach, is subtitled "Double Parked," while "Chinatown" and "Too Bad" have a jazz-rock flavor that reflects urban cool as well.