Ex-Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips has always sounded wiser than his years -- he was 14 when he joined the band -- so it's no surprise that his second full-length collection of solo material is as elegant as it is weighty. With a cast of characters that would appear in boldface if there were a pop underground wall of fame (ex-Jellyfish frontman Andy Sturmer, Ben Folds, Kristin Mooney, Jon Brion, Switchfoot's Jon Foreman and Semisonic/Trip Shakespeare scribe Dan Wilson), Phillips has made a bid for commercial success -- each track is poised for prime-time programming -- that's as strategically planned as it is lovingly crafted. On the lush opener, "Duck and Cover," he pays homage to Sprocket's ambitious folk-rock, utilizing the kind of winsome lyric ("Seems like life is a palindrome/Cry when you die/Cry when you're born") and dramatic melodic structure that made "Walk on the Ocean" such a genre-skipping hit. While Phillips is unabashedly introspective, he's not above being happy about it -- the first single "Thankful," is layered with staccato Phillips/Sturmer backing vocals and enough power pop key shifts to rival an A.C. Newman song -- but there is a river of melancholy flowing beneath Winter Pays for Summer that winds through even its most upbeat offerings. Of the three songs co-written with Dan Wilson, only the mesmerizing "Cleareyed" jumps out of the speakers upon first listen, while the other two tread such familiar ground for both artists that the end product seems to have required little or no effort. Vocally, Phillips has matured into -- especially when he gets riled up -- a quiet storm that dutifully blends Cat Stevens' confident huskiness and Jackson Browne's weary but warm observer of all things broken, and it's this aspect that places him, unapologetically, at the forefront of the adult alternative rock scene and heading for a theater or a television set near you.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger