John Phillips

Jack of Diamonds

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Although John Phillips record releases virtually ground to a halt after his 1970 solo debut album, he did continue recording intermittently in the '70s. The 13 tracks forming the core of Jack of Diamonds are an approximation of how a second Phillips solo LP might have sounded, pieced together from various sessions in 1972 and 1973. Phillips made a great contribution to mid-'60s pop/rock as chief songwriter for the Mamas & the Papas, and to be harsh, this batch of tunes is not only weak in comparison, but also finds him losing his central threads of stylistic identity. Maybe it has something to do with the confusion of finding his music increasingly out of step with the times, but much of this is pretty lethargic, nearly faceless, early-'70s singer/songwriter fodder. Sometimes inspired by the time he was spending in New York, the songs reflect a vague sense of dislocation, discontent, and sketches of slightly odd characters and milieus without connecting deeply. As a solo singer, he seems inadequate to the task of fully expressing the complexities he apparently wants to probe. The instrumentation is a too-tame form of laid-back jazzy early-'70s rock, despite (or because) of the presence of pros like Jim W. Gordon, Van Dyke Parks, and some of the Crusaders. "Jack of Diamonds," aka "Me and My Uncle," is a real good song, but you won't know it from the lounge-ish reading he gives it here, and it's terribly inferior to the versions cut by Dino Valenti, Judy Collins, and Mike Wilhelm. The five cuts designated as bonus tracks -- not intended for a second Phillips album, but recorded between 1970 and 1973 -- are both different in mood and a little more satisfying, including the two songs he contributed to Robert Altman's eccentric movie Brewster McCloud; a couple Mamas & the Papas recordings that didn't make their ill-fated final album, "People Like Us"; and another version of "Me and My Uncle."

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