Phil Vassar established himself as a top country songwriter by penning vigorous, rock-influenced romps for Tim McGraw and Jo Dee Messina. On his own, Vassar is an enthusiastic vocalist, a skilled pianist, and a gifted composer of spirited, nostalgic tales. Like Tom T. Hall, Vassar has a talent for chronological storytelling, squeezing big emotions out of small-town details. The boisterous "Carlene," an immediate hit, details the rediscovery of a high school valedictorian who blossomed into a fashion model. "Joe & Rosalita" follows a similar blueprint, commemorating the journey of two childhood sweethearts from senior prom to domestic bliss. Subsequent hits like "Just Another Day in Paradise" and "That's When I Love You" benefited from the album's good-time piano and guitar vibe, and launched Vassar as a distinctive recording artist. Various country music awards may have solidified his reputation among his peers, but no accolade validates Vassar's talent more than a song like "Didn't You Know She's Gone," in which Vassar speaks through various inanimate objects before admitting the truth to himself. As the dialogue progresses, echoes of '60s pop give way to heartbreaking guitar until his revelation surmounts poetic denial. It is one of many highlights on Phil Vassar, an imaginative debut that suggests he has a wealth of future material for himself and others.
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AllMusic Review by Vince Ripol