Celebrating Behind The Light: Song of The Week 9 – My Boy

There are at least two commercially available versions of Phillip Phillips‘ second album Behind the Light: a regular version with 12 songs, including singles “Raging Fire” and “Unpack Your Heart,” and a deluxe version containing three additional songs, two of which are written solely by Phillip (a third, limited release by Target includes another additional track, “Grace”).

The first of these additional tracks on the deluxe album is “My Boy,” a song of such profound beauty–musically, lyrically, artistically–that it alone makes it worth owning this version of Behind the Light. And much like “Thicket,” “Fly,” or “Face,” “My Boy” reveals yet again another completely different colour and flavour to Phillip’ song writing.

On “My Boy,” he teams with Fin Greenall, singer-songwriter and frontman of British trio Fink, who lends the song a quiet, atmospheric moodiness that’s characteristic of a lot of Fink’s music. Phillip, who has already shown his ability to create intense melancholic landscapes ( “A Fool’s Dance” on his first album, or even “Creatures,” a gorgeous, still unreleased song), absolutely thrives in this mood, making “My Boy” one of the most fully realized songs on the album, and one of Phillip’s most conceptually sophisticated songs to date.

Phillip has said many times that he is a guitar player first and a singer second, but in “My Boy” it is Phillip’s vocals that really shine, managing to be stirring and raw, but also subtle and fully in control, a true display of skill meeting emotion. The same can be said of Dave Eggar’s cello, which matches Phillip’s singing with what I consider to be his most elegant, most masterful contribution on the whole album. The string arrangement, by Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer, brings to mind the intimacy and richness of chamber music, a small but deeply expressive piece full of emotion.

Lyrically, “My Boy” seems to portray a conversation made up of very few, very cautiously chosen words; a moment of such intimacy and sadness we almost feel witness to something we shouldn’t hear. “It’s hard to say what’s in your heart, the truth can break it all apart,” Phillip sings on one of the verses, and though we never hear what these truths are, we certainly feel the fear that the possibility of this pain may cause. Silence then, is the answer, unuttered words to delay making real what until then have been abstract ideas and feelings, and we hear this in the sparseness of words, in the spaces left in between the words, in the boomy percussion and the echoing voice. The guitar, played brightly and warmly by Phillip, is constant, repetitive, a reminder of the time going by amidst all the silence.

“Everything will be okay my boy” Phillip repeats quietly throughout the song, like a lullaby, gentle words of comfort from a father or mother to a son. Yet we know there is perhaps no comfort, that innocence is gone, that the world has been revealed in all its harsh truths. The song, as a warm embrace, rises and surround us, the chorus swelling, soothing and reassuring, yet still incapable of curing an irreversibly broken heart.

Check out some beautiful performances of “My Boy” below. And click here to buy Behind the Light!

Every week until May 19 we are writing about one song on Behind the Light. Check out our previous Songs of the Week.

Celebrating Behind The Light – Song of the Week 5: FACE

Quietly hidden between the hopeful “Unpack Your Heart” and the uplifting “Midnight Sun,” is “Face,” our Song of the Week 5. Sneaked in between those two powerful songs, “Face” perfectly exemplifies the diversity of sound and emotion that we find in Behind the Light. As unique as “Thicket” in terms of concept and execution, “Face” is in many ways its opposite, showing a musical and emotional restraint that really contrasts with the rest of the album.

Based on a deep groove and melody reminiscent of gypsy jazz, the song has a cool, sexy feel that serves to hide–perhaps intentionally–the heartbreak we find within the lyrics. Another one of Phillip’s solo writing credits on Behind the Light, “Face” also captures the deep musical connection between the members of Phillip’s acoustic trio, made up of Phillip, guitarist Errol Cooney and cellist Dave Eggar. Although not exactly a trio on “Face” (thanks to the excellent addition of Chuck Palmer on percussion), the song captures the trio sound by highlighting the masterful contribution of each player without adornments or major production. It’s probably no coincidence that both Dave Eggar and Errol Cooney have called “Face” one of the favourite songs they got to do on Behind the Light, Errol pointing to the song’s “minimal live arrangement” and Dave to the chance it gave him to explore “a jazz or gypsy type of use of the cello.”

The Trio: Phillip, Dave and Errol.

Both of these elements are indeed key elements of the song, and ones that help bring to the studio the pure sound, joyful creativity and musical camaraderie displayed by the trio during their live performances. Much like these performances, the song’s minimal arragement allows us to clearly hear the inner workings of the musical exchange–the conversation–between the trio without any other instrumentation or production coming between them, with Phillip and Errol laying down the rhythmic and melodic core of the song, the percussion further grounding the groove of the guitars and Dave gliding in and out freely, colouring inside and outside the lines with the cello.

Phillip Phillips and Errol Cooney in the studio.

Though the meaning of the song’s lyrics appears to be right on the surface, I don’t think it’s that simple, especially given the mysterious title of the song. They speak of a relationship that has not been equal, where one seems to have been more invested than the other. The lyrics could be directed at the other person but they could also be an internal conversation, a struggle between the mind and heart of somebody who is fighting to forget and move on. We can go back to the music again to give us hints and to illuminate us as we hear the percussion and the guitars maintain that in-the pocket groove but also Errol and Dave expanding over the melody and the theme more freely, romantically, almost seductively.

And later, when Phillip sings the same lyrics repeatedly over the bridge (“When you find your way back in darling, I won’t give my heart again”) it’s almost more like a self-promise than a warning to the other, as if he’s gathering the strength to say those words out loud, to actually “walk out the door.” In the end, maybe “Face” speaks of a heartbreak that has become tinted with coolness and pride, the kind that needs to show a stoic face to hide a broken, trampled-on heart.

Behind the Light: the album tracks

Check out Phillip and band playing a cool, full band rendition of “Face” below. And, if you haven’t yet done so, click here to buy Behind the Light!
All photos by Phillip Phillips.

Celebrating Behind The Light: Song of the Week 3 – Thicket

Perhaps no other song on Phillip Phillips’ second album Behind the Light is as unique and revealing of his inclinations a song writer as “Thicket,” our Song of the week 3. Buried deep into Behind the Light, “Thicket” is a complex, cinematic creation that feels like a world unto itself; a jewel of a song that became a fan favourite almost immediately after the album release.

Built around an intricate circular guitar riff Phillip had been playing as practice for months, “Thicket” is very much a signature Phillip Phillips song, one that favors rhythmic complexity, haunting melodies and deep and enigmatic lyrics. This is also one of the songs on the album where he has a solo writing credit.

The guitar riff is actually played first by the cello, which opens the song with a rapid, dizzying succession of notes. Drums come in but at half time, creating an immediate tension between the rapid riff and the more menacing, slower tempo of the rest of the strings and the drums.

As with most of the songs on Behind the Light, “Thicket” features a gorgeous string arrangement by Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer, Eggar playing the cello in it as well. And his contribution here is very deep, helping Phillip create the haunting, mysterious feeling that defines the song.

The lyrics are in the form of a story, a narrative painted in vivid images that look back in regret to a lost love, at what could have been. Brilliantly, the lyrics mirror the music and the music mirrors the lyrics, as the unresolved, circular melody comes back “around and round” during each verse.

Very “Phillips” also, is the way the lyrics are composed and sung, sometimes running longer than they should within a beat, turned then by Phillip into syncopated notes that keep us guessing and add one more layer of rhythmic tension and uncertainty. It’s dense and intricate, like a thicket indeed. As for the lyrics, many times I feel like trying to understand them is like trying to find shapes in the clouds, but Phillip has indicated in interviews that this song may be about how we sometimes are so focused on looking at the details, that we are blinded and fail to see the whole picture.

And in the end this is how “Thicket” feels, like a puzzle we’ve been building and we finally fit the last piece and the entire picture becomes clear. The revelation here seems disturbing, but also liberating and joyous and we hear it as all sections of the music, including Phillip’s vocals, go into an exhilarating crescendo, finally finding each other on the same tempo and hitting the same beat. It is as if the bird has finally flown out, and we have followed it, and find our way out too…

Check out some rocking videos of “Thicket” below. And take a look at some of the beautiful “Thicket” artwork submitted by fans for Phillip’s lyrics artwork contest last year.

Buy Behind The Light.

Follow our Song of the Week series:
Song of the Week 1
Song of the Week 2

"Thicket" Fan Artwork by Sylvia "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Danni Allingham "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Tiffany "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Doreen "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Bonnie "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Megan "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Elita "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Becca "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Erika "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Erin "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Danielle "Thicket" Fan Artwork by Vickie "Thicket" Fan Artwork by @alwaysmeart