The debut release from Josh Phillips has, indeed, a fresh melodic sheen quite unlike other young country music performers today. This six song collection casts him in the mold of country music balladeer, but Phillips unveils an assortment of sides to his musical persona. It’s quite refreshing to hear a performer capable of inhabiting a particular niche that, nevertheless, retains enough unabashed bravery to indulge other interests. The production presents Phillips in a memorable way – the songs draw from a diverse array of instruments and give each a well-balanced space in the mix. New Beginnings brims over with creativity and a fresh revisiting of familiar themes.
It begins nicely with “Completely Out of You”, a breezy uptempo pop country number. It has enough light guitar muscle to give it a faint rock veneer, but its truly distinguishing quality is the powerful drumming. It strikes a memorable balance between dexterous and hard-hitting while Phillips’ husky baritone plays off well against the thunderous backbeat. His voice has enough gravitas to make this an exhilarating, but more importantly, convincing opener. “Steal Me Away” has a seductive allure setting it apart from the EP’s other songs and top-shelf pop sophistication that emphasizes accessibility without ever pandering outright to convention. Phillips never turns over any new musical ground on New Beginnings – that isn’t his aim. Instead, songs like “Steal Me Away” show that he’s a young master of recasting traditional formulas and themes in fresh, exciting ways. He derives such ability from the individuality of his voice and songwriting material alone. “A New Tomorrow” turns away from the cluttered musical attack of the first two tracks and works from an acoustic base. It’s arguably Phillips’ finest vocal turn on the entire EP and benefits from an equally impressive lyric highlighting his literary skill at its best.
“Leave in Love” boasts a similar feel and approach to the preceding song, but the balladic aspects are stressed in a bigger way. The tempo is a little slower and Phillips takes great care to dramatize the lyric through excellent, tasteful phrasing. Some might find the melody a little lacking compared to its counterpart in “A New Beginning”, but excels far beyond what listeners are conditioned to expect from this genre. “Inspired” has a surprising gospel flavor thanks to its melodic piano lines and Phillips’ forceful, open-throated vocal. The stylistic shift required to pull this off demonstrates that Phillips is far from an one trick pony, but he surprises listeners further with the album’s closing track. “No Sleep Tonight” is a saucy shot of swinging blues that, despite its retro slant, sounds fresh and played with great brio. If Phillips feels uncomfortable with this music, it doesn’t show – this is easily one of his most comfortable vocals on the EP.