What happens when the life-long journey of an incredibly talented musician who stayed 100% true to his own vision and mission comes to a close? You get an absolutely magical and soul-bearing album. Early in his life, multi-instrumentalist Michael Philip Reed said that he would do a solo album. He’d play all of the instruments and record it. A recipe for disaster, no doubt, in less accomplished musician’s hands. However, Reed’s relentless talent in ALL instruments (ever invented, I’m guessing… the sheer breadth of instrumentation here is mind blowing) and keen artistic ear makes this self-proclaimed “lo-fi avant-garde” album rise above anything I’ve heard in 2017.
This is actually an incredibly difficult album to review. Each song is so different and so well-thought out that you just can’t give a general overview. So let us start with the obvious… Mr. Reed is one of the best musicians in the world. Period. I hate to sound so confident, but it is clear. He is a master guitar player. He shreds and creates intricate solo work that stay within the musical frames of his work. He’s a master piano player. He plays his keys like someone who has solely focused (obsessively) on the piano for his entire life. These are the two main instruments featured on this album (I include synth when I say piano). Musicians who know how difficult these two very different instruments are will be blown away by the playing here. His voice is tremendous. He has a soulful, breathy voice that has incredible range. He can croon and sing out in songs like “The Low Resistance” or make you hang to every softly-uttered syllable in “Hey Mister”. He would have accomplished so much if he’d just focused on these parts of his music and brought in other musicians to flesh out his compositions. But now… every horn trill, flute, percussive feature, bass guitar riff (again, a master), and flurry comes straight from Mr. Reed himself. He may be one of only a handful of musicians in the world that could pull this off.
Each song is so different. The easiest way to describe them may be to go song by song… which is something I’m not usually so keen to do. However, this album deserves it. The Low Resistance is a quick tempo toe-tapper that truly showcases his guitar playing and singing. His catchy lyrics and ability to manipulate rhythms is impressive. Neon Blue has a folksy power behind it. It makes you feel a sense of yearning. The flute adds a layer of texture that makes it different than his other tunes. His vocals really shine here. Let’s pretend is a lot of fun. It has a 70’s chill vibe with the organ patch he uses. I could see a dude with bell-bottoms on grooving down the street listening to this tune. His chorus vocal work is acrobatic and fantastic. This song is like if the Jackson 5 met a multi-instrumentalist who shreds. Hey Mister is a song that gives me chills. It opens with a digital, almost video game like synth part. Then the gorgeous finger-picking joins the fray along with the previously mentioned breathy vocals. Favorite Side continues the finger-picking and ratchets up the difficulty of the work. Brother of mine has a “country” feel to it. It has a great hook and feels very emotional. It is probably my least favorite track, but it does have its good qualities. The Problem is beautiful. Listening to it puts me in a place of peace. I feel like I’m in a smoky blues bar. Chilling with a drink and taking in the sounds. Give Again is a straight forward piece with some solid lyrics and more catchy melodies. Another great song, just not the most stand out of the bunch. The Wars We Have Won is the most bizarre piece. His distorted vocals mix with a melody that slowly dissolves into a thunderstorm. It’s a surprisingly experimental track that works well establishing intensity before my favorite song on the album. Faking Blind is an absolute masterpiece in song-writing. It opens with a prominent piano piece and emotional crooning from Reed. It comes to a crescendo that creates an emotional swell inside of me. His vocals soar over the top of piano trills, as he puts the crown on his masterpiece. Once he comes down from the swell, there’s 40 seconds of silence before bringing back the song. It feels like an encore… a curtain call for an artist who has quite literally created a masterpiece.
The strongest compliment I can pay this album is that it made me feel. It’s the best solo album I’ve ever heard, eclipsing Dustin Kensrue’s solo work. This is a five-star effort, and possibly one of the best records I’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait to hear more from this unique artist.