Phil Madeira Delivers a Piano-Based Song Cycle for Home on ‘Providence’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Phil Madeira is by turns multi- instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, illustrator, painter, producer, sideman, front man. Madeira, by his own admission, is far from a household name but he’s become a fixture in Nashville and certainly in Americana circles for nearly three decades. He has quietly released five solo critically-acclaimed records, two in 2015, and has shared the stage with a head spinning number of icons. He provides a variety of keyboards on the Grammy-winning TajMo album with Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. As a producer, besides individual artists, his highlights include the 2012 release of Americana Paul McCartney covers, Let Us In: Americana, the various artists he assembled for both volumes of Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us in 2011 and 2016, and Treasure of the Broken Land – the Songs of Mark Heard just last year. As a songwriter, he’s written hits for bigger names too. In other words, Phil Madeira has made a career out of telling other people’s stories and giving them some stories to tell. Now, he’s stepping forward with a love letter to his native state, Rhode Island with Providence.

Although Madeira has done plenty of solo work, this is his first piano-based record since 1995 but it is different than anything prior. Although it will be promoted and labeled as an Americana album, it could just as easily by a jazz piano trio album influenced by Ramsey Lewis, Thelonius Monk, and on the roots side, Randy Newman. The opening track, “Wicked Job” has Lewis’ imprint all over it. Randy Newman is in songs like “Gothenburg” and “Back in the Ocean State.” Mose Allison is a lyrical inspiration but doesn’t factor into Madeira’s piano style. “Wide Eyed Dream” was written about Mose at the time of Mose’s passing. Solos in ‘Crescent Park” and “Rich Man’s Town” nod to Monk.

The album was recorded live in the studio and features “three quarters” of The Red Dirt Boys, (Emmylou Harris” backing unit) with Chris Donahue on bass, Brian Owens on drums, and Madeira providing lead vocals and piano. Will Kimbrough (also a Red Dirt Boy) lends guitar work on “Native Son” and jazz icon John Scofield adds guitar to “Crescent Park.” Touches of brass and reeds round out the sound, with horn arrangements form John Mark Painter, but it’s primarily the trio of Madeira, Donohue, and Owens that carry the load.

Songs like “Rich Man’s Town,” specifically about Barrington,” Barrington,” and “Back in the Ocean State” reflect on his childhood. Others, like “Dearest Companion” and a “Rhode Island Yankee on Jefferson Davis Court” with its great lines “When I called my mother up/she said you don’t talk like us no more/You’re a Rhode Island Yankee on Jefferson Davis Court” make the connection between where he was raised and Nashville. The pull of Southern music was so strong for Madeira that it eventually drew him to Nashville where he has thrived, albeit relatively quietly – until now when the world at large hears him telling his own stories.

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