Nichols and Phillips
Jeb Loy’s Yard
Top Quality and Relaxing Soulful Americana Straight Outta the Welsh Hill Country.
I have taken on too much recently, so when this album dropped from RMHQ it was touch and go whether time would be on my side to give it my fair attention.
Then I gave it a quick spin; and never before has an album so spectacularly hit the mark at the MOST perfect moment in my life!
A couple of listens in, it has now become the soundtrack to my day: 12 intimate, timelessly soothing growers by a duo who seem to hold your hand throughout the entire album.
I’m not surprised to learn that this collaboration is born out of a friendship, one between Wales based American roots singer songwriter Jeb Loy Nichols and Clovis Phillips, who accompanies with an array of instruments including guitar and mandolin. Their unity is evident, the instruments effortlessly compliment the vocals and vice versa.
What’s more the pair recorded, produced and mixed the album together in deepest Wales at Clovis’s Add a Band studios.
Both being new artists to me, I am struck by the charming juxtaposition of a vintage country/bluegrass/folk blend teamed with irresistibly soulfully smooth, tender-rich vocals that are on a par with the likes of George Benson, Seal and even dare I say Bruno Mars, staking this album firmly in the here and now.
‘Rain Falling on The Roof At Night’ lusciously opens the album with a pitter patter tempo ‘drip dropping’ us through the song.
It’s powerfully simplistic, a collection of memories sparked by the sound of the rain, the one thing that remains unchanged.
We are staring into puddles of reflections, from the perspective of a distant lover, a homeless man recollecting childhood memories and through to an aging lady in the back of a limo recollecting her youth.
A commanding start, but this is just the beginning….. Jeb Loy Nichols demonstrates he is the mature, accomplished songwriter (that his CV of 15 or so releases since 1997 would suggest!) with a bunch of clever love songs told from hugely original angles, forming the back bone of this new release.
‘Let Me Love You In My Own Way’ is a jauntily acoustic, confessional strum through the ups and downs of being in a relationship and houses one of the sunniest vocal performances on the album for me.
My eyes tight shut, I’m imagining picnicking in the Countryside with that special person:
‘I’ll bring you blackberries and pumpkin seeds,
I’ll make you soup from nettles leaves
A whole life long I’ll do my best but get it wrong
On that I think that we both agree
Let me love you in my own way.”
There’s more than a hint of bluegrass blowin’ in the Welsh hills, circling around the happy break up song ‘That’s What It Sounds Like’.
We witness a couple discussing their non- existent relationship against the backdrop of retro Wurlitzer keys filling in with a catchy chorus complete with ‘Sha La La’s’, giving an old-time singalong feel.
Discovering that this singer songwriter spent most of his childhood listening to classic soul songs on the radio from greats such as Al Green and Curtis Mayfield, now makes sense of all the musical influences seeping through.
This album is as nostalgic as it is new: a winning combo for the likes of me.
In a similar vein, ‘It’s Terrible To Be In Love’ gently spills bitter sweet nuances, with a backdrop of soft harmonies that hint it’s all worth the pain in the end.
Talking of which, ‘Start Hurtin’ Again’ ventures into laid back Country territory, musing on the necessity for taking that first step to find love again, despite the risk of another broken heart.
Phillips’s playing is exquisite throughout the album and buried at the half way point here is a solo shimmering with a waterfall of acoustic notes.
More country tales with the single and title track ‘Three Fools’ which breezily describes a man’s life journey, a tale of yearning for a lost love, coupled with honest observations about humankind.
The only cover song on the album is the folky ‘I’d Rather Be Your Friend’ which is a little-known track by the American songwriter Donnie Fritts who passed away in 2019.
It’s a touching tribute and sits well to wrap up the album.
Choosing a favourite was always between two tracks that both highlight the need to take a chill out from the demands of everyday life….. oh yes please!
Runner up ‘Number Four’ swings in with a melodic, hypnotic Latin groove, describing a blissful day filled with gentle activities designed to bring joy:
‘There’s an apple blossom tree that I wanna see
There are gravel roads I want to explore
I’ve got three things on my list to do today
And no working, working, working is number four’
The top slot goes to a song which takes this chillin’ mood one step further, describing a day of doing absolutely nothing at all.
The ballad lullaby ‘All I Want To do Is Sleep’, complete with Jeb Loy’s deeper, entrancing vocals, spells out the ultimate pyjama day:
‘Don’t come around here with any big plans
Making plans is what got me in this mess
Plans lead to doing and too much doing leads to ruin
So go away, go away I need a rest.’
This heavenly album has got ‘Do not disturb whilst playing’ stamped all over it.
It initially releases with a limited vinyl edition which would sound just perfect on my old ‘70s stereogram; and if I can ever muster up enough energy to go out again, then catching this duo live will make it to the top of my revised to do list.
Review by Anita Joyce
Released 20th March 2023
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