Phil Sheeran

It's a Good Thing

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When Phil Sheeran burst onto the instrumental scene in 1990 with the Top 5 radio smash Breaking Through, his melodic, Brazilian-tinged strings seemed to perfectly capture the subtle intimacies and breezy boisterousness the acoustic guitar is noted for. After a several year layoff following the similar success of his follow-up Standing on Fishes, Sheeran is back for the long haul with the eclectic excitement of It's a Good Thing, a collection that also marks the debut release from the artist-friendly label Passage Records. One of the most identifiable strands running through his first two albums was Sheeran's great love for Brazilian music and rhythms, which were cultivated through years of studying the greats like Luiz Bonfá and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as a six-month stint living in the South American country. But on It's a Good Thing, which was co-produced by keyboardist Gregg Karukas and features key all-star contributions from saxman Eric Marienthal and percussionist Luis Conte, Sheeran reflects different inspirations in his life, as well as the fact that he hasn't been to Brazil in over ten years. An effective addition to the Sheeran sound is the textural element of soundscaping throughout tunes like the multi-phasic "More Questions," which shifts tempo several times as it winds from romantic to edgy and improvisational, and "Sounds Like Rain," a pensive, reflective gem opening with thunderstorm effects and capturing moodswings with the far-off muted trumpet flavors of Jay Thomas. The warm, breezy smoothness which became Sheeran's trademark takes over from there, with a healthy spray of tunes ranging from uplifting ("Everything's Alright," which features the guitarist sparring with Marienthal's alto in a silky duality) and high gear frolicsome ("Telephone Tag" co-written with Karukas) to coy and subtle ("One Left Slipper"). A live, organic feel prevails, with the frisky edges of "The Spin" -- featuring Marienthal, Karukas, Luis Conte, and Elektric band drummer Gary Novak -- summing up all-star interplay at its finest. The tender "Friends," on the other hand, strips down to the lush duo of Sheeran and the beautiful ivory sound of Tom Kellock.

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