CD REVIEW: Phil Celia - Circus Town
by: Cyrus Rhodes
Label: Dark Moon Records
Genre: Americana, Rock, R&B, Folk
Sounds Like: Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Paul Simon, Woody Guthrie
Technical Grade: 8/10
Weakness: A few winded songs, More solo segments, More vocal emotion (peak and valley's)
Los Angeles based Singer/Songwriter Phil Celia just released his latest CD entitled Circus Town in 2013. His new record marks a significant step forward for Celia. He is venturing into new musical territory while keeping one foot firmly grounded in the sound he established in earlier releases. This is his third release to date.
The CD lifts off the ground nicely with Track 1, “Brand New Home” a heartfelt flowing ballad that serves up an earthy guitar-driven groove, meshed against a walking bass line, effective harmonies and soulful melody from Celia.. Track 2, “Fireside” shifts gears a bit with a steady flowing rhythm and well placed Americana-Folk ambience painted against a grand slam chorus, making for a striking follow-up statement. Track 3, “Travel On” is another impressive ditty that dishes out a rock steady R&B rhythm, and some well placed vocal harmonies that flows and ebbs its way through to motional fruition. The CD makes a strong first impression, dashing out 3 very solid songs in a row. The musicianship involved is above the bar. I would classify this music as classic Singer/Songwriter. Pop/Americana, with brief touches of Modern Folk, and even Saloon Jazz to R&B. Celia’s music is reminiscent of classic Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Woody Guthrie, and Paul Simon. Along the way you will notice lush instrumentation with Mandolin, Banjo, Accordion, Rhythm Guitar, sporadic Percussion, lush harmonies all built upon a ‘thick as a brick’ rhythm section. What I like the most about Celia and his band, is how well they seem to groove together, testament to hundreds of hours of writing and rehearsal time no doubt. Now turning our attention over to Celia. As for his vocal abilities - he’s a great advent for the Singer/Songwriter genre. His voice goes down smooth and fills the space peacefully and unobtrusively with a timbre that is s bit infectious. I might add he takes some impressive vocal risks indicating to me a confident vocal ability. All songs are extremely well crafted and consistent across the board - World Class Songwriting. All production aspects check out. Within the sonic spectrum I enjoyed the solid low end punch and the crystal clear high end clarity. This latest effort from Phil Celia delivers 9 solid timeless tracks all providing musical enjoyment filled with strong musical variety and diversity. The music of Phil Celia has everything you would expect from a world class musical production. From melodic “Circus Town” the rock steady “Nobody Like You” to heartfelt “Never Lonely” and “Out of Tune Guitar.” this EP has something for just about everyone. The CD ends with Track 9 “Shine the Light” the perfect finale statement for a CD like this.
It’s hard to find any serious weaknesses with this release. All songs over 4 minutes tend to drag you to the finish line. I do however wish there were more extended solo segments throughout the catalog – reminiscent of great Americana Jam Band. I also recommend Celia bring more vocal emotion to the table on some of his slower performances by providing more vocal peaks and valley within his vocal delivery. During some of the slower moments he comes on a bit strong. I recommend he step back from the mic, dial back the intensity a bit and showcase a slow, heart-stopping baritone during all the pin drop moments. At the end of the day people don't but plastic, they buy emotions. I don’t care how the vocal sit within the sonic space - very bright and in your face. This approach is designed to maximize radio marketability, but at the end of the day it can be a real wear on the ears.
From start to finish, "Circus Town” by Phil Celia is an impressive collection of music. The songwriting is gold standard – full of consistent musical experiences, each one possessing a unique personality, flair, and signature groove. Note for note, song for song, there isn’t really a weak piece in this entire catalog. The writing and playing abilities of Phil Celia and company are rock solid. The melodies and harmonies are well crafted, and the lyrical content is packed to the hilt with good old-fashioned conventional wisdom. At the end of the day Phil Celia brings the mojo, and is clearly a marquee talent. One would be wise to keep a watchful eye on him over the years to come – down in his new home.