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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: Phil Putnam - Casualties

Phil Putnam - Casualties
2008, Box Of Wood Music

Say what you want about Phil Putnam, the man is all about perseverance. Born into a non-musical family, Putnam didn't even learn to play piano until he was in college (he taught himself). Diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome at the age of nine, Putnam wasn't exactly the poster child for a career in music, but he never gave up. In this case desire and perseverance combined with talent to create a pretty special package. Putnam's 6th album, Casualties, represents a plateau of personal and musical growth that bleeds through every word and every note. This is Putnam at his best (so far).

Phil Putnam is very much his own man as a performer, but you will find moments where he reminds you of artists such as Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright, David Gray and even Billy Joel. Casualties opens with More Than This, inhabited by the spirit of Joel's piano playing. Putnam is a comfortable story-teller behind the mic, his easy sounding voice the perfect instrument to deliver his smart, heartfelt lyrics. More Than This sounds like it could just as easily be country as rock. Don't be surprised if you hear other folks covering this song down the road. Severity is reminiscent of Ben Folds at his most neurotic with a nervous piano progression underlying the song. Paris is a lovely side trip with haunting violin trio playing alter ego to the vocalist.

Putnam offers up a touching performance on Let It Go, complete with a beautiful vocal harmony that balances sorrow with hope. I'm No Prize is the sort of big piano rock tune that Putnam seems to have the most fun with. He does the ballads well, but these vaguely bombastic tunes full of self-deprecating wit are where Putnam shines. This is perhaps not the most moving song on the album, but it may be the best selection here. Slip Away is a big change of gears, lamenting a relationship that has fallen apart in starkly beautiful terms. Slip Away is a matter of fact recognition of how things are, whereas Ache is full of sorrow and loss, punctuated by strings and the plaintive piano Putnam provides as support.

Casualties is one of those albums that starts off perhaps just a bit weak but keeps getting better and better as it goes. Sacrifice is brutally honest and poignant and sounds like a musical soliloquy from a play. Other highlights include Goodnight, My Devil; The Ben Folds styled Here To Stay; Variations and One Little Step.

In listening to Casualties, your first impression might be that Putnam delights in, or is at least very talented at relaying human sorrow in song. This isn't exactly true. Putnam has a talent for illuminating the sad beauty and conviction that underlies human sorrow. He doesn't have the true bombast of a Ben Folds or Billy Joel, but when it comes to emotional honesty in songwriting he is in the same class. The musical arrangements here are generally first class. A couple of weak moments early on in Casualties are more than balanced by album that gets better and better as each song passes. Casualties is highly recommended.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Phil Putnam at, where you can purchase a copy of Casualties. Putnam also has links on his site to iTunes if you want to purchase Casualties as a download.

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