Phil Keaggy has had a wide variety of releases in his long career. Some instrumental, some vocal. Some electric, some acoustic. And, of course, some that are really good and some that are not as good. In almost any artist’s career there are high points and low points and there are also albums that really stand out. Phil Keaggy has had a couple that have really stood out over the years. One of those was The Master and the Musician, his first instrumental album. Phil recently toured to support the 30th Anniversary of that album so as he prepared his latest album he had M&M on his mind and in saw some similarities between Master and Musician and his latest album, Phantasmagorical. He mentioned those similarities when talking about the album before it’s release creating some buzz among his fans. In fact, it even has, as it’s subtitle, Master and Musician 2.
It has finally arrived (you can order it on his website) and I've now had a couple of weeks to digest it. While it is clearly not the sequel to M&M (and I don't know if Phil ever really intended it to be - decisions about titles like this are sometimes driven more by management than by the artist) it is also a very good album. As I mentioned in a recent review of The Song Within, Phil seems to be in a great creative space right now and has released a couple of very strong albums in a row. One of the things that strikes me about Phantasmagorical is how often a song will begin and I’ll find myself wondering who it is – not realizing it is Phil because he is experimenting with some new sounds – slide guitar, for example in the first track, “Like Snow Before the Sun” or the horns at the beginning of "Cascading." There is a lot of variety in this album and, of course, stellar playing throughout. But one of Phil's strengths is as a composer and arranger and he does that well on Phantasmagorical. Yes, there are times when it sounds like parts of it could have been on M&M but there are also parts that sound more like the sequel to Beyond Nature, (perhaps my favorite of Phil's instrumental albums) and there are parts that I'm hard-pressed to say if they'd fit on any of his previous albums.
Perhaps the best track on the album is the one that Phil previewed for us on the M&M tour, “Forever to Joy,” one of the songs that actually most sounds like the Master and Musician album with its strong melody and the delicate use of flute. It’s a great end to a great album. Phantasmagorical is one of the better PK albums of the last decade and it ranks nicely up there with his best ever.