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Philip Marino - Chasing Ghosts (Self Release)

Star rating: 
4

Philip Marino, American born and resident in Essex, has a great voice, an intimate, emotional instrument with a little vibrato that draws you into his songs. There is a soulful spiritual rumble to Marino's singing like Jeffrey Foccault or Brett Sparks from The Handsome Family. There is a real sense that having got your attention he has a story to tell and some wisdom to share. This is the music of the leafy rural backroads and white clapperboard churches, filtered through the UK South East. Intimate voice and guitar anthems like In My Blood and Try with the excellent Louisa Carrington on second vocal just crackle with emotion. The lyrics are thoughtful and reflective on the human condition, hitting a warm spiritual groove like a bar room acoustic guitar toting Hothouse Flowers. Lyrics like "I'm halfway done with my life", from This Time, or  "still don't know what it means to win" have a very agreeable note of engaging melancholia without any sentimentality. These are Marino's lyrics and there is real sense that he has lived every syllable and is telling it like it is. A sleeve image backs this up with a wonderful monochrome shot of a brooding reflective Philip. Street Photography style he is looking away, distracted, not meeting our eye, snapped through an out of focus foreground. The image builds the mood and suits the material perfectly, making a well constructed whole.

The title, lyrics and the wrap around images on the album sleeve, suggest that these are potent symbols for a life lived and a hard road travelled and are not lightly chosen. The album is beautifully ordered and constructed designed to drunk whole, gradually bigger arrangements develop with the atmospheric organ keyboard and electric guitars on the title track or the distant pedal steel on This Time. When The Wind Blows opens with Philip's excellent, close to the mic vocals, drawing you in. The drums shuffle a delicate rythmn, backing vocals and splashes of guitar and keyboards add colour, but it's never overstated or cloying. There is always a sense of tasteful, sophistication and restraint in the playing, as everyone is holding their breath or collectively going ssssshhhh. Listen to the space on the final track, the room around the vocals or the finger snap rhythm.  On tracks like The Road Goes Down there is a dark fire underneath Marino's excellent vocal, suggesting he can roar when the moment arises. The band roars too, with some dirty bar band guitar and atmospherics, rocking out in a mighty fine way. Closer No Turning Back fades beautifully into a vocal close then confounds with a burst of a Tex-Mex Americana meets Focus to leave you with a smile as the band chuckles on the fade. A strong set that seethes with potent and energy, a real grower.  

Marc Higgins 
Northern Sky