There are few artists who have meant as much to me over the years as Phil Keaggy. For more than the past thirty years I have enjoyed his music. But it's more than that. Because his fan base is so much smaller than, say, Paul McCartney, I have actually met Phil on a couple of occasions and I know people who know him pretty well. So it's not just Phil's music but it's also him as a person that I have a bit of an attachment to.
So it has been a little difficult for me to write reviews of his albums on this blog over the past few years since his last few releases have been less than his best. While I generally liked Jammed! I was less thrilled with both Roundabout and Dream Again. So when I heard that Phil was making an album of acoustic versions of well known songs I thought that it might be nice and I ordered it from philkeaggy.com. It arrived in the mail on the same day as the new Paul McCartney album so I had a bunch of new stuff to listen to all at once.
It might be hard to make a bad album when you've got Beatle songs like "Here Comes the Sun," "Here There and Everywhere," and "In My Life" sitting next to the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" and Bob Dylan's "If Not For You." On the other hand the songs are pretty iconic and the original versions are pretty definitive so you have to be careful to interpret these songs in a way that gives proper credit to the original but yet has some of your own personality in it. Otherwise, what's the point?
But Phil and Friends do a nice job of making these acoustic versions of these songs stand out by themselves. The biggest thing that caught my attention is that I even like the Billy Joel song, "She's Got a Way." Phil manages to make me realize that it really is a nice song – it's apparently Joel's performance that irritates me.
Phil adds one of his own songs, "You Have My Heart" which fits in nicely although, let's face it – putting one of your own songs on an album with songs by the Beatles, Dylan, James Taylor, and Brian Wilson is pretty tough! But it works. My favorite is his acoustic reading of Wilson's "God Only Knows." This is the song which is faithful to the original arrangement but yet does it with almost all acoustic guitars. It works very well.
This album probably isn't going to win Keaggy many new fans. For one thing the guitar playing is great but not jaw-droppingly great like Phil can do when he wants to. But this album will make his fans (who have been clamoring for an album with some of these cover versions on it) quite happy because he not only gave them what they asked for but he did it with class.